The discovery and use of genetic markers associated with carotenoid levels can help to exploit the genetic potential of maize for provitamin A accumulation more effectively. Provitamin A carotenoids are classes of carotenoids that are precursors of vitamin A, an essential micronutrient in humans. Vitamin A deficiency is a global public health problem affecting millions of people, especially in developing countries. Maize is one of the most important staple crops targeted for provitamin A biofortification to help alleviate vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. A genome-wide association study (GWAS) of maize endosperm carotenoids was conducted using a panel of 130 diverse yellow maize tropical inbred lines genotyped with Genotyping by Sequencing (GBS) SNP markers. Numerous significant association signals co-localizing with the known carotenoid biosynthesis genes crtRB1, lcyE and ZEP1 were identified. The GWAS confirmed previously reported large effects of the two major carotenoid biosynthesis genes lcyE and crtRB1. In addition, significant novel associations were detected for several transcription factors (e.g., RING zinc finger domain and HLH DNA-binding domain super family proteins) that may be involved in regulation of carotenoid biosynthesis in maize. When the GWAS was re-conducted by including the major effects of lcyE and crtRB1 genes as covariates, a SNP in a gene coding for an auxin response factor 20 transcription factor was identified which displayed an association with β-carotene and provitamin A levels. Our study provides a foundation for design and implementation of genomics-assisted selection strategies for provitamin A maize breeding in tropical regions, and advances efforts toward identification of additional genes (and allelic variants) involved in the regulation of carotenoid biosynthesis in plants
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