Genome-Wide Association Study of Phytic Acid in Wheat Grain Unravels Markers for Improving Biofortification

Front Plant Sci. 2022 Feb 15;13:830147. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2022.830147. eCollection 2022.


Biofortification of cereal grains offers a lasting solution to combat micronutrient deficiency in developing countries where it poses developmental risks to children. Breeding efforts thus far have been directed toward increasing the grain concentrations of iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn) ions. Phytic acid (PA) chelates these metal ions, reducing their bioavailability in the digestive tract. We present a high-throughput assay for quantification of PA and its application in screening a breeding population. After extraction in 96-well megatiter plates, PA content was determined from the phosphate released after treatment with a commercially available phytase enzyme. In a set of 330 breeding lines of wheat grown in the field over 3 years as part of a HarvestPlus breeding program for high grain Fe and Zn, our assay unraveled variation for PA that ranged from 0.90 to 1.72% with a mean of 1.24%. PA content was not associated with grain yield. High yielding lines were further screened for low molar PA/Fe and PA/Zn ratios for increased metal ion bioavailability, demonstrating the utility of our assay. Genome-wide association study revealed 21 genetic associations, six of which were consistent across years. Five of these associations mapped to chromosomes 1A, 2A, 2D, 5A, and 7D. Additivity over four of these haplotypes accounted for an ∼10% reduction in PA. Our study demonstrates it is possible to scale up assays to directly select for low grain PA in forward breeding programs.

Keywords: GWAS; biofortification; grain nutrition; iron; phytic acid; zinc.