Salinity is a major obstacle to wheat production worldwide. Salt-affected soils could be used by improving salt-tolerant genotypes depending upon the genetic variation and salt stress response of adapted and donor wheat germplasm. We used a comprehensive set of morpho-physiological and biochemical parameters and simple sequence repeat (SSR) marker technique with multivariate analysis to accurately demonstrate the phenotypic and genetic variation of 18 wheat genotypes under salinity stress. All genotypes were evaluated without NaCl as a control and with 150 mM NaCl, until the onset of symptoms of death in the sensitive plant (after 43 days of salinity treatment). The results showed that the relative change of the genetic variation was high for all parameters, heritability (>60%), and genetic gain (>20%). Stepwise regression analysis, noting the importance of the root dry matter, relative turgidity, and their respective contributions to the shoot dry matter, indicated their relevance in improving and evaluating the salt-tolerant genotypes of breeding programs. The relative change of the genotypes in terms of the relative turgidity and shoot dry matter during salt stress was verified using clustering methods. For cluster analysis, the genotypes were classified into three groups: tolerant, intermediate, and sensitive, representing five, six, and seven genotypes, respectively. The morphological and genetic distances were significantly correlated based on the Mantel test. Of the 23 SSR markers that showed polymorphism, 17 were associated with almost all examined parameters. Therefore, based on the observed molecular marker-phenotypic trait association, the markers were highly useful in detecting tolerant and sensitive genotypes. Thus, it considers a helpful tool for salt tolerance through marker-assisted selection.
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