Differentiating wheat genotypes by bayesian hierarchical nonlinear mixed modeling of wheat root density




Wasson, Anton P
Chiu, Grace
Zwart, Alexander B
Binns, Timothy R

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Frontiers Research Foundation


Ensuring future food security for a growing population while climate change and urban sprawl put pressure on agricultural land will require sustainable intensification of current farming practices. For the crop breeder this means producing higher crop yields with less resources due to greater environmental stresses. While easy gains in crop yield have been made mostly “above ground,” little progress has been made “below ground”; and yet it is these root system traits that can improve productivity and resistance to drought stress. Wheat pre-breeders use soil coring and core-break counts to phenotype root architecture traits, with data collected on rooting density for hundreds of genotypes in small increments of depth. The measured densities are both large datasets and highly variable even within the same genotype, hence, any rigorous, comprehensive statistical analysis of such complex field data would be technically challenging. Traditionally, most attributes of the field data are therefore discarded in favor of simple numerical summary descriptors which retain much of the high variability exhibited by the raw data. This poses practical challenges: although plant scientists have established that root traits do drive resource capture in crops, traits that are more randomly (rather than genetically) determined are difficult to breed for. In this paper we develop a hierarchical nonlinear mixed modeling approach that utilizes the complete field data for wheat genotypes to fit, under the Bayesian paradigm, an “idealized” relative intensity function for the root distribution over depth. Our approach was used to determine heritability: how much of the variation between field samples was purely random vs. being mechanistically driven by the plant genetics? Based on the genotypic intensity functions, the overall heritability estimate was 0.62 (95% Bayesian confidence interval was 0.52 to 0.71). Despite root count profiles that were statistically very noisy, our approach led to denoised profiles which exhibited rigorously discernible phenotypic traits. Profile-specific traits could be representative of a genotype, and thus, used as a quantitative tool to associate phenotypic traits with specific genotypes. This would allow breeders to select for whole root system distributions appropriate for sustainable intensification, and inform policy for mitigating crop yield risk and food insecurity



generalized linear mixed models, heritability, hierarchical modeling, root architecture, wheat phenotyping



Frontiers in Plant Science


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Open Access

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Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY)



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