Utilization of the natural genetic variation in traditional breeding programs remains a major challenge in crop plants. The identification of candidate genes underlying, or associated with, phenotypic trait QTLs is desired for effective marker assisted breeding. With the advent of high throughput -omics technologies, screening of entire populations for association of gene expression with targeted traits is becoming feasible but remains costly. Here we present the identification of novel candidate genes for different potato tuber quality traits by employing a pooling approach reducing the number of hybridizations needed. Extreme genotypes for a quantitative trait are collected and the RNA from contrasting bulks is then profiled with the aim of finding differentially expressed genes.
We have successfully implemented the pooling strategy for potato quality traits and identified candidate genes associated with potato tuber flesh color and tuber cooking type. Elevated expression level of a dominant allele of the β-carotene hydroxylase (bch) gene was associated with yellow flesh color through mapping of the gene under a major QTL for flesh color on chromosome 3. For a second trait, a candidate gene with homology to a tyrosine-lysine rich protein (TLRP) was identified based on allele specificity of the probe on the microarray. TLRP was mapped on chromosome 9 in close proximity to a QTL for potato cooking type strengthening its significance as a candidate gene. Furthermore, we have performed a profiling experiment targeting a polygenic trait, by pooling individual genotypes based both on phenotypic and marker data, allowing the identification of candidate genes associated with the two different linkage groups.
A pooling approach for RNA-profiling with the aim of identifying novel candidate genes associated with tuber quality traits was successfully implemented. The identified candidate genes for tuber flesh color (bch) and cooking type (tlrp) can provide useful markers for breeding schemes in the future. Strengths and limitations of the approach are discussed.