Sustaining wheat production under low-input conditions through development and identifying genotypes with enhanced nutritional quality are two current concerns of wheat breeders. Wheat grain total protein content, to no small extent, determines the economic and nutritive value of wheat. Therefore, the objectives of this study are to identify accessions with high and low grain protein content (GPC) under well-watered and water-deficit growth conditions and to locate genomic regions that contribute to GPC accumulation. Spring wheat grains obtained from 2111 accessions that were grown under well-watered and water-deficit conditions were assessed for GPC using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR). Results indicated significant influences of moisture, genotype, and genotype × environment interaction on the GPC accumulation. Furthermore, genotypes exhibited a wide range of variation for GPC, indicating the presence of high levels of genetic variability among the studied accessions. Around 366 (166 with high GPC and 200 with low GPC) wheat genotypes performed relatively the same across environments, which implies that GPC accumulation in these genotypes was less responsive to water deficit. Genome-wide association mapping results indicated that seven single nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs) were linked with GPC under well-watered growth conditions, while another six SNPs were linked with GPC under water-deficit conditions only. Moreover, 10 SNPs were linked with GPC under both well-watered and water-deficit conditions. These results emphasize the importance of using diverse, worldwide germplasm to dissect the genetic architecture of GPC in wheat and identify accessions that might be potential parents for high GPC in wheat breeding programs.
Keywords: genome-wide association mapping; grain protein content; water deficit; wheat.