Seed-flooding stress is one of the major abiotic constraints severely affecting soybean yield and quality. Understanding the molecular mechanism and genetic basis underlying seed-flooding tolerance will be of greatly importance in soybean breeding. However, very limited information is available about the genetic basis of seed-flooding tolerance in soybean. The present study performed Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS) to identify the quantitative trait nucleotides (QTNs) associated with three seed-flooding tolerance related traits, viz., germination rate (GR), normal seedling rate (NSR) and electric conductivity (EC), using a panel of 347 soybean lines and the genotypic data of 60,109 SNPs with MAF > 0.05. A total of 25 and 21 QTNs associated with all three traits were identified via mixed linear model (MLM) and multi-locus random-SNP-effect mixed linear model (mrMLM) in three different environments (JP14, HY15, and Combined). Among these QTNs, three major QTNs, viz., QTN13, qNSR-10 and qEC-7-2, were identified through both methods MLM and mrMLM. Interestingly, QTN13 located on Chr.13 has been consistently identified to be associated with all three studied traits in both methods and multiple environments. Within the 1.0 Mb physical interval surrounding the QTN13, nine candidate genes were screened for their involvement in seed-flooding tolerance based on gene annotation information and available literature. Based on the qRT-PCR and sequence analysis, only one gene designated as GmSFT (Glyma.13g248000) displayed significantly higher expression level in all tolerant genotypes compared to sensitive ones under flooding treatment, as well as revealed nonsynonymous mutation in tolerant genotypes, leading to amino acid change in the protein. Additionally, subcellular localization showed that GmSFT was localized in the nucleus and cell membrane. Hence, GmSFT was considered as the most likely candidate gene for seed-flooding tolerance in soybean. In conclusion, the findings of the present study not only increase our knowledge of the genetic control of seed-flooding tolerance in soybean, but will also be of great utility in marker-assisted selection and gene cloning to elucidate the mechanisms of seed-flooding tolerance.
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