Genome Wide Association Study to Identify the Genetic Base of Smallholder Farmer Preferences of Durum Wheat Traits.Front Plant Sci. 2017; 8:1230.FP
Smallholder agriculture involves millions of farmers worldwide. A methodical utilization of their traditional knowledge in modern breeding efforts may help the production of locally adapted varieties better addressing their needs. In this study, a combination of participatory approaches, genomics, and quantitative genetics is used to trace the genetic basis of smallholder farmer preferences of durum wheat traits. Two smallholder communities evaluated 400 Ethiopian wheat varieties, mostly landraces, for traits of local interest in two locations in the Ethiopian highlands. For each wheat variety, farmers provided quantitative evaluations of their preference for flowering time, spike morphology, tillering capacity, and overall quality. Ten agronomic and phenology traits were simultaneously measured on the same varieties, providing the means to compare them with farmer traits. The analysis of farmer traits showed that they were partially influenced by gender and location but were repeatable and heritable, in some cases more than metric traits. The durum wheat varieties were genotyped for more than 80,000 SNP markers, and the resulting data was used in a genome wide association (GWA) study providing the molecular dissection of smallholder farmers' choice criteria. We found 124 putative quantitative trait loci (QTL) controlling farmer traits and 30 putative QTL controlling metric traits. Twenty of such QTL were jointly identified by farmer and metric traits. QTL derived from farmer traits were in some cases dependent on gender and location, but were consistent throughout. The results of the GWA study show that smallholder farmers' traditional knowledge can yield QTL eluding metric measurements of phenotypes. We discuss the potential of including farmer evaluations based on traditional knowledge in crop breeding, arguing for the utilization of this untapped resource to develop better adapted genetic materials for local agriculture.