Sesame has great potential as an industrial crop but its production is challenged by drought and salt stresses. To unravel the genetic variants leading to salinity and drought tolerances at the germination stage, genome-wide association studies of stress tolerance indexes related to NaCl-salt and polyethylene glycol-drought induced stresses were performed with a diversity panel of 490 sesame accessions. An extensive variation was observed for drought and salt responses in the population and most of the accessions were moderately tolerant to both stresses. A total of 132 and 120 significant Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) resolved to nine and 15 Quantitative trait loci (QTLs) were detected for drought and salt stresses, respectively. Only two common QTLs for drought and salt responses were found located on linkage groups 5 and 7, respectively. This indicates that the genetic bases for drought and salt responses in sesame are different. A total of 13 and 27 potential candidate genes were uncovered for drought and salt tolerance indexes, respectively, encoding transcription factors, antioxidative enzymes, osmoprotectants and involved in hormonal biosynthesis, signal transduction or ion sequestration. The identified SNPs and potential candidate genes represent valuable resources for future functional characterization towards the enhancement of sesame cultivars for drought and salt tolerances.
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