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Genomic Prediction Enables Rapid Selection of High-Performing Genets in an Intermediate Wheatgrass Breeding Program

Author: Jared Crain, Lee DeHaan, Jesse Poland

Publication: The Plant Genome


In an era of constrained and depleted natural resources, perennial grains could provide sustainable food production along with beneficial ecosystem services like reduced erosion and increased atmospheric carbon capture. Intermediate wheatgrass (IWG) [Thinopyrum intermedium (Host) Barkworth & D. R. Dewey subsp. intermedium] has been undergoing continuous breeding for domestication to develop a perennial grain crop since the 1980s. As a perennial, IWG has required 2–5 yr per selection generation, but starting in 2017, genomic selection (GS) was initiated in the breeding program at The Land Institute, Salina, KS (TLI), enabling one complete cycle per year. For each cycle, ∼4,000 seedlings were profiled using genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) and genomic estimated breeding values (GEBVs) were calculated. Selection based on GEBVs identified ∼100 individuals to advance as parents each generation, while validation populations of 1,000–1,200 genets for GS model training were also selected using the genomic relationship matrix to represent genetic diversity in each cycle. The selected parents were randomly intermated in a greenhouse crossing block to form the subsequent cycle, while the validation populations were transplanted to irrigated and nonirrigated field sites for phenotypic evaluations in the following years. For priority breeding traits of seed mass, free threshing, and nonshattering, correlations between predicted values and observed data were >.5. The realized selection differential ranged from 11–23% for selected traits, and the expected genetic gains for these traits, including spike yield, ranged from 6 to 14% per year. Genomic selection is a powerful tool to speed the domestication and development of IWG and other perennial crops with extended breeding timelines.

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