Development and use of miRNA-derived SSR markers for the study of genetic diversity, population structure, and characterization of genotypes for breeding heat tolerant wheat varieties

PLoS One. 2021 Feb 4;16(2):e0231063. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0231063. eCollection 2021.


Heat stress is an important abiotic factor that limits wheat production globally, including south-east Asia. The importance of micro (mi) RNAs in gene expression under various biotic and abiotic stresses is well documented. Molecular markers, specifically simple sequence repeats (SSRs), play an important role in the wheat improvement breeding programs. Given the role of miRNAs in heat stress-induced transcriptional regulation and acclimatization, the development of miRNA-derived SSRs would prove useful in studying the allelic diversity at the heat-responsive miRNA-genes in wheat. In the present study, efforts have been made to identify SSRs from 96 wheat heat-responsive miRNA-genes and their characterization using a panel of wheat genotypes with contrasting reactions (tolerance/susceptible) to heat stress. A set of 13 miRNA-derived SSR markers were successfully developed as an outcome. These miRNA-SSRs are located on 11 different common wheat chromosomes (2A, 3A, 3B, 3D, 4D, 5A, 5B, 5D, 6A, 6D, and 7A). Among 13 miRNA-SSRs, seven were polymorphic on a set of 37 selected wheat genotypes. Within these polymorphic SSRs, three makers, namely HT-169j, HT-160a, and HT-160b, were found promising as they could discriminate heat-tolerant and heat-susceptible genotypes. This is the first report of miRNA-SSR development in wheat and their deployment in genetic diversity and population structure studies and characterization of trait-specific germplasm. The study suggests that this new class of molecular makers has great potential in the marker-assisted breeding (MAB) programs targeted at improving heat tolerance and other adaptability or developmental traits in wheat and other crops.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / genetics
  • Alleles
  • Genetic Markers / genetics*
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Genotype
  • Heat-Shock Response / genetics*
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Microsatellite Repeats / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Breeding
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics
  • Thermotolerance / genetics*
  • Triticum / genetics*


  • Genetic Markers
  • MicroRNAs

Grant support

The funding for the study was received from Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), New Delhi, India with Award Number/grant number of PDF/2016/002667 and NIFA Hatch/Multi-state grant (S009)