Association mapping of quantitative resistance to charcoal root rot in mulberry germplasm
Association mapping of quantitative resistance to charcoal root rot in mulberry germplasm
Marian Vincent Pinto 0 1 2
Poornima H. S. 0 1 2
Rukmangada M. S. 0 1 2
Triveni R. 0 1 2
V. Girish Naik¤ 0 1 2
0 Current address: Regional Sericultural Research Station , Chamarajanagar, Karnataka , India
1 Molecular Biology Laboratory± 1, Central Sericultural Research and Training Institute , Mysuru, Karnataka , India
2 Editor: Maoteng Li, Huazhong University of Science and Technology , CHINA
Outbreaks of root rot disease in the productive South Indian sericulture belt have threatened the sustainability of the industry. Macrophomina phaseolina (Tassi) Goid. causing charcoal rot is the predominant pathogen to which all productive mulberry cultivars are susceptible. The present study was undertaken to identify molecular markers associated with charcoal rot resistance in mulberry. A mapping panel comprising 214 diverse entries from the Indian germplasm collection was assessed for charcoal rot resistance by artificial inoculation. Resistance to the pathogen was observed in 20 entries, and 51 were found to be moderately resistant. A total of 773 alleles generated across 105 SSR loci and 20,384 AFLP markers generated using 32 EcoRI-NN and MseI-CNN primer combinations were used in genetic analysis. The panel was weakly structured with two subpopulations. However, most entries were found to be admixtures. Survival of cuttings and number of roots per sapling were associated with root rot resistance. Association mapping was performed using different linear mixed models. Five AFLP markers explaining 9.6±12.7% of the total phenotypic variance were found to be significantly (p < 0.05) associated with root rot resistance. Significant associations were also detected in four AFLP markers for survival of cuttings, and these markers explained 10.7±14.2% of the total phenotypic variance. These markers should be validated using mapping populations derived from contrasting biparental combinations by linkage analysis for use in marker-assisted gene pyramiding for durable resistance. The resistant genotypes identified in this study will substantially contribute to genetic improvement of mulberry for charcoal rot resistance and can be integrated into conventional breeding programmes.
Data Availability Statement: All relevant data are
within the paper and its Supporting Information
Funding: This study was partially funded by the
Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science
and Technology, Govt. of India, New Delhi, with
grant (No. BT/PR5811/PDB/19/238/2012)
sanctioned to VGN. MVP was supported with
fellowship [JRF/SRF-NET; Grant No. 09/1090
(0001)/2013-EMR-I] awarded by the Council of
Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi. The
funders had no role in study design, data collection
Mulberry (Morus L. spp.) is indispensable in the sericulture industry, as the domesticated
silkworm Bombyx mori (Linnaeus, 1758) feeds exclusively on the foliage of these plants to meet its
nutritional requirements. Mulberry cultivation accounts for approximately 40% of the total
and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of
cost of cocoon production (S1 Table). Hence, it is obvious that mulberry improvement for
higher productivity, leaf quality, adaptability to different agroclimatic conditions, abiotic stress
tolerance and disease resistance is imperative to sustainably enhance the quality and yield of
silk. Mulberry is a perennial and is grown as a lowbush, highbush or small tree plantation for
silkworm rearing. A well-maintained garden can give good yields for 15±20 years [
diseases are a major problem in mulberry cultivation, as managing them is quite a challenge
when compared with foliar diseases. Perennial nature of the crop, resilience of soilborne
pathogens, and their persistence in soil as spores and sclerotia provide a congenial atmosphere for
the establishment of infectious agents and inoculum build-up [
]. Of late, mulberry root rot
outbreaks have become a serious threat in four South Indian states±Karnataka, Andhra
Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana . These four states cumulatively account for
approximately 80% of the mulberry raw silk production in the country [
Various types of root rots, such as dry rot caused by Fusarium solani (Mart.) Sacc. and F.
oxysporum Schlecht., black rot caused by Botryodiplodia theobromae Pat. [= Lasiodiplodia
theobromae (Pat.) Griff. and Maubl.] and charcoal rot caused by Macrophomina phaseolina (Tassi)
Goid. [= Rhizoctonia bataticola (Taubenh.) E.J.Butler], have been reported in mulberry from
India [6±8]. Occurrence of disease complexes due to infection by more than one root
rot-causing pathogen and association of root-knot nematode [Meloidogyne incognita (Kofoid and
White, 1919) Chitwood, 1949] with root rot have also been reported [
]. However, it was
found that M. phaseolina is the most prevalent pathogen in the South Indian sericulture belt
]. Most mulberry cultivars are prone to charcoal rot disease and can cause up to 35% leaf
yield loss, reduction in leaf size, deterioration of leaf quality, and plant mortality [
]. These in
turn adversely affect profitability in sericulture [
Many chemical and biological methods have been recommended for the control of
mulberry root rots [
]. The use of chemicals is undesirable due to residual toxicity on silkworms
]. Indiscriminate use of fungicides comes at a cost to the environment and human health
]. Furthermore, it leads pathogens to evolve resistance [
]. Biological approaches for the
control of soilborne diseases are not very successful due to various factors, such as variability
in performance and poor efficacy under optimal conditions for disease development,
stemming from the complex and dynamic host plant × pathogen × biocontrol agent × environment
]. Non-availability of root rot-resistant mulberry cultivars has made the use of
chemicals an unavoidable necessity. As such, genetic improvement by breeding for resistance
is the only tenable option. Genetic resistance is the most effective, cost-efficient and
environmentally friendly method for disease control [
]. A good example for this is breeding for leaf
rust resistance in spring bread wheat undertaken by CIMMYT, Mexico, which has resulted in
limiting crop losses to an insignificant level over the decades . The benefit-cost ratio for
these efforts was estimated to be 27:1 [
Plant breeders have mostly relied on germplasm resources and crop wild relatives for useful
genetic variants to create novel gene combinations in crop improvement programmes [
India holds a rich germplasm collection of 1291 mulberry accessions of both indigenous and
exotic origin [
]. Significant variability in agronomically important traits is observed in the
germplasm [23±26]. To date, in India, only 20 mulberry cultivars have been screened for their
disease response to M. phaseolina, and all were found to be susceptible [
] reported that the mulberry cultivar Pai and F1 hybrids Pai × Noi No. 6, 18,
33 and 36 exhibited resistance to root rot disease in Thailand. This indicates the availability of
root rot-resistant sources in the germplasm. Therefore, screening a representative subset of
mulberry germplasm is important to identify charcoal rot-resistant accessions.
Mulberry breeding is constrained by its long juvenile period, outcrossing nature,
heterozygosity, etc. [
]. The development of a new mulberry cultivar requires approximately 15 years
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on average [
]. Modern breeding approaches such as marker-assisted selection (MAS) are
more efficient and precise for targeted trait improvement and can be undertaken once the
quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for the trait of interest have been mapped and validated [
MAS has been successfully applied in breeding bacterial blight resistance in rice , Fusarium
head blight resistance in wheat , potato late blight resistance , etc. Association mapping
allows simultaneous screening of germplasm and mining QTLs. The method takes advantage
of historical recombination events in a population that bring about decay in linkage
disequilibrium (LD) to detect causative variants in tight linkage with the trait of interest . Employing
diverse germplasm resources for mining QTLs ensures that the complete genetic variability
underlying the trait in the gene pool is accounted for . Sampling germplasm panels to
retain maximum genetic diversity in a minimum size has a normalizing effect that reduces
population structure and LD between unlinked loci . Therefore, such panels are ideal for
association analysis. Krishnan  selected a `panel of diverse germplasm' (PDG) comprising
300 entries using the SimEli sampling strategy. This PDG represents the entire genetic
diversity available in the Indian mulberry germplasm collection. The present study was undertaken
to evaluate the PDG against M. phaseolina and to identify molecular markers associated with
charcoal root rot resistance.
Materials and methods
Cuttings of the PDG entries were obtained from the ex situ gene bank at Central Sericultural
Germplasm Resources Centre, Hosur, and the nursery was raised according to recommended
The PDG was established as a small tree (90 cm crown height) plantation under augmented
randomized complete block design  at Central Sericultural Research and Training Institute
(CSRTI), Mysuru (12Ê 150 38.6@ N, 76Ê 370 30.6@ E). The plot with red sandy loam soil was
divided into 5 blocks, each comprising 3 sub-blocks. Every entry was represented by 4 ramets
in a sub-block, with a spacing of 1.5 m between plants and 1.8 m between sub-blocks.
Victory1 (indigenous) and Kousen (exotic) were grown as check cultivars. An end guard row of
Victory-1 was planted to eliminate border effects. Poor rooting entries were propagated by
grafting buds onto Victory-1 stem stocks  and established in the plot. The plantation was
maintained as per recommended practices  but with a biannual pruning schedule.
Phenotyping for root rot resistance
Preparation of inoculum. The most virulent isolate of M. phaseolina from mulberry±
] was used in the study. Sorghum grains were soaked for 18 h in water. The water was
drained, and 100 g of the soaked grain was weighed into 300 ml culture bottles. These bottles
were autoclaved at 121ÊC for 1 h. Ten discs (8 mm diameter) cut from 4-day-old cultures of
the pathogen grown on potato dextrose agar (PDA) were used to inoculate the sterilized
sorghum. The bottles were incubated at room temperature for 30 days with intermittent mixing.
The sorghum was completely colonized by the pathogen and darkened with microsclerotia at
the end of the incubation period and was used for inoculation of mulberry saplings.
Evaluation of disease response. Four-month-old saplings were carefully uprooted from
nursery beds and were planted in earthenware pots (18 cm diameter) with 2 kg of sterilized
red sandy loam soil thoroughly mixed with 1 bottle of the fungal inoculum in July 2015 (see
 for metrological data). The pots were arranged in three randomized complete blocks
under open-field conditions. Every accession was represented by one inoculated pot and one
uninoculated pot (control) in a block. Pots were irrigated with 300 ml of water once every two
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days during the dry period. The total number of leaves per plant, number of wilted leaves per
plant, number of dead plants per accession, weight of the whole root system per plant (g) and
weight of the healthy portion of the root system per plant (g) were recorded 90 days after
inoculation, and disease indices (leaf wilting, healthy root, root rot and plant mortality
percentages) were calculated . Based on the percentage of root rot, the disease response was
categorized on a scale of 0±5 (Table 1). A set of 10 randomly selected accessions was
phenotyped for a second time during February±May 2016 (see  for metrological data). Analysis
of variance (ANOVA) and other statistical computations were performed using R 3.4.0 .
Pathogen recovery and molecular identification. Among the charcoal rot infected
accessions, 6 were randomly selected, and roots from 1 sapling per accession were thoroughly washed
with tap water. Root bits 5 mm in length were surface sterilized by dipping in 2% sodium
hypochlorite solution for 2 min. The root bits were then thoroughly rinsed in sterilized deionised
water to remove the bleach and inoculated onto PDA plates supplemented with streptomycin
sulphate (100 mg/l). The plates were incubated at room temperature for 2±5 days. Hyphal tips
emerging from the root bits were transferred to fresh PDA plates and were incubated for 5±7
days to obtain axenic cultures. DNA was extracted from mycelia of the stock culture and
reisolated pathogen using a commercial kit (HiPurA Fungal DNA Purification Kit: HiMedia
Laboratories Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, India) according to the manufacturer's instructions. RAPD
fingerprinting was performed using 8 informative arbitrary primers (OPA-03, OPD-13,
OPD18, OPG-17, OPM-04, OPQ-20, OPR-15, OPR-18: Operon Technologies Inc., Alameda, CA,
USA) as described by Naik and Dandin  to ascertain the identity of the reisolated pathogen.
The reproducibility of RAPD fingerprinting was assessed by performing replicate PCRs.
Testing of `tails'. The `tails' (5 each of resistant and highly susceptible genotypes)
identified after phenotyping the panel for disease response to M. phaseolina were assessed for their
reaction to other root rot pathogens using the virulent isolates F. solani `FS-13', F. oxysporum
`FO-20' and B. theobromae `BT-2' [
]. Inoculum preparation and phenotyping were performed
as described previously, from August±November 2016 (see  for metrological data).
Phenotypic data on yield and propagation parameters
Data on mulberry germplasm characterization for leaf yield per plant (kg) and propagation
parameters such as survival of cuttings (%), number of roots per sapling, fresh root weight per
sapling (g), dry root weight per sapling (g), longest root length per sapling (cm) and root
volume per sapling (ml) were compiled from `Catalogue on mulberry (Morus spp.) germplasm'
(Vol. 1±5) [23±26].
Genomic DNA was extracted from fresh young mulberry leaves collected from the PDG plot using
a commercial kit (HiPurA Plant Genomic DNA Miniprep Purification Kit: HiMedia Laboratories
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Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, India) according to the manufacturer's instructions. An aliquot (2 μl) of each
DNA sample was electrophoresed on 1% agarose gel in 1× TAE at 4 V/cm for 1 h . The DNA
was quantified using a microvolume spectrophotometer (NanoDrop 2000C: Thermo Fisher
Scientific Inc., Wilmington, DE, USA). DNA samples that appeared as a single, sharp
high-molecularweight band on the agarose gel, with an A260/A280 ratio of 1.8±2, were used in genotyping.
Restriction digestion, adaptor ligation and preselective amplification reactions were performed
as per the protocol of Vos et al.  with minor modifications. Genomic DNA (200±250 ng)
was incubated with 5 U each of EcoRI-HF and MseI in 40 μl of 1× CutSmart Buffer for 1 h at
37ÊC. A 10 μl solution containing 5 pmol of EcoRI adaptor, 50 pmol of MseI adaptor, 5 mM
ATP and 80 cohesive end units of T4 DNA Ligase in 1× CutSmart Buffer was added to the
digestion reactions, and incubation was continued for 3 h at 37ÊC. The restriction±ligation
products were diluted two-fold with T10E0.1 (pH 8.0) buffer.
The preselective amplifications were carried out in 20 μl reaction volumes containing 1×
Standard Taq Reaction Buffer, 200 μM of each dNTP, 0.3 μM EcoRI primer, 0.3 μM MseI-C
primer, 0.5 U of Taq DNA Polymerase and 2 μl of the diluted restriction±ligation product. The
reactions were performed with the following cycling profile: 20 cycles of 94ÊC for 30 s, 56ÊC
for 1 min, 72ÊC for 1 min, and a final extension step at 72ÊC for 7 min. The PCR products
were diluted eight-fold with T10E0.1 (pH 8.0) buffer.
The selective amplifications were performed as per Clarke  with minor modifications in
10 μl reaction volumes containing 1× Standard Taq Reaction Buffer (with 1.5 mM MgCl2), an
additional 3.125 mM MgCl2, 250 μM of each dNTP, 0.5 μM 50-labelled EcoRI-NN primer
(Applied Biosystems Ltd., Woolston, Cheshire, UK), 0.5 μM MseI-CNN primer, 0.5 U of Taq
DNA Polymerase and 2 μl of the diluted preselective amplification product. The touchdown
PCR cycling was carried out as follows: 13 cycles of 94ÊC for 30 s, 65ÊC (reduced by 0.7ÊC/
cycle) for 30 s, 72ÊC for 1 min, followed by 23 cycles of 94ÊC for 30 s, 56ÊC for 30 s, 72ÊC for 1
min, and a final extension step at 72ÊC for 7 min.
All enzymes used in AFLP genotyping were procured from New England BioLabs Inc.,
Ipswich, MA, USA. The oligonucleotides used are listed in S2 Table. All preselective and selective
amplification reactions were performed on the GeneAmp PCR System 9700 (Applied
Biosystems Inc., Foster City, CA, USA), and the ramping speed was limited to 1ÊC/s. Capillary
electrophoresis and scoring of AFLP profiles were performed as described by Clarke .
A total of 7 SSR primers designed for M. boninensis Koidz.  and 154 SSR primers designed
for M. indica L. were used in the study (S3 Table). Screening of primers, PCR optimization
and genotyping were performed as described by Pinto et al. . The resolving power (Rp) of
each primer pair was calculated as per Prevost and Wilkinson .
The mulberry germplasm was previously characterized with 74 SSR markers [36, 49], which
generated a total of 542 alleles across the loci. These genotypic data were also utilized in the
present study. Unless stated otherwise, genetic analysis was performed with the combined AFLP and
SSR marker dataset, and all markers with > 10% missing data were excluded from analysis.
Assessment of genetic diversity and kinship
A dissimilarity matrix based on Dice's coefficient  was computed, and cluster analysis was
performed by the neighbour-joining method  using the software DARwin 6.0.14 . The
dendrogram was drawn using FigTree 1.4.2 (http://tree.bio.ed.ac.uk/software/figtree/).
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The codominant SSR marker data were used to compute pairwise kinship coefficients 
among the accessions with SPAGeDi 1.5 . All negative values in the 214 × 214 kinship
matrix were set to zero, as suggested by Yu et al. [
Population structure analysis
Bayesian clustering was performed to investigate population stratification in the panel using
the software Structure 2.3.4 [57±59]. The admixture model with correlated allele frequencies
was used. All markers were coded as dominant, and ploidy was set to 1. The run length was set
to 110,000 MCMC iterations with the fist 10,000 being discarded as burn-in for
subpopulations (K) ranging from 1±6. Five runs were performed for each K value. The optimal number
of subpopulations was determined by the method of Evanno et al. [
]. ΔK was calculated
using the web application Structure Harvester 0.6.94 [
]. For the optimum K, replicate runs
were aligned with the FullSeach algorithm implemented in the program CLUMPP 1.1.2 [
The outfile from CLUMPP was used to generate a bar plot of the Structure results using the
web application Structure Plot 2.0 (http://omicsspeaks.com/strplot2/) [
component analysis (PCA) was also performed to assess population stratification in the panel using
the R package adegenet 2.0.1 [
]. The first and second principal components (PCs), which
explained the maximum variance, were plotted to obtain the graphical output. Analysis of
molecular variance (AMOVA) was performed according to Excoffier et al. [
] using Arlequin
] to assess the molecular variance within and between Structure-defined
subpopulations. The program FAMD 1.31 [
] was used to count private alleles in each of the
Association mapping for charcoal rot resistance was performed using the accession means of
healthy root percentage as the response variable. Marker±trait association (MTA) analysis was
also performed for survival of cuttings and number of roots per sapling, as these traits were
found to be associated with root rot resistance. Various statistical models described by Yu et al.
], namely, simple, Q, K and Q+K, were used for MTA, with subpopulation membership
coefficients as fixed covariates and kinship as random effects. MTA was performed using
TASSEL 5.2.37 [
] by the general linear model procedure for simple and Q models, whereas
compressed mixed linear model with population parameters previously determined [
] was used
for K and Q+K models. The p-values were corrected for multiple testing by the Benjamini and
Hochberg step-up false discovery rate (FDR) controlling procedure [
] implemented in the R
package multtest 2.32.0 [
]. The significance threshold for MTA was set at 0.05. The model
with the lowest mean of the squared differences (MSD) between observed and expected
p-values was selected as the best [
]. Quantile±quantile (Q±Q) plots of the p-values were also
generated to assess the adequacy of the models in controlling type I errors.
Disease response of the mapping panel
A total of 214 entries from the PDG were found to root and could be screened for their
reaction to charcoal root rot causing M. phaseolina by artificial inoculation. These 214 entries
constituted the mapping panel. Diverse response to the pathogen was observed (S4 Table; Fig 1).
High resistance to the pathogen was not observed, which indicates the absence of qualitative
resistance to M. phaseolina in the set of screened germplasm. However, 20 accessions with less
than 26% root rot were classified as resistant. M. cathayana (Hybrid) had of the fewest infected
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Fig 1. Infected roots±external view (A), traverse section (B) and longitudinal section (C).
PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0200099
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roots (9.85%), and 2 accessions of M. multicualis Perr., ME-0168 and ME-0006, had 12.03%
and 16.57% root infection, respectively. G-2, a new cultivar recommended for young silkworm
rearing, and G-4, an improved cultivar, both bred from M. multicaulis (♀), were classified as
resistant (22.81% root rot) and moderately resistant (35.91% root rot), respectively. Moderate
resistance to the infection was observed in 51 accessions; 50 accessions were categorized as
moderately susceptible; 19 accessions were classified as susceptible; and 74 accessions were
found to be highly susceptible, of which 73 were completely infected by the pathogen. The wild
mulberry species M. laevigata Wall. ex Brandis was represented by 6 accessions that were all
found to be highly susceptible. The main effects for disease responses were significant (leaf
wilting: F213,426 = 2.97, p = 6.53 × 10−22; root rot and healthy root: F213,426 = 3.64, p = 4 × 10−30)
and negligible between replications (leaf wilting: F2,426 = 0.23, p = 0.8; root rot and healthy
root: F2,426 = 1.42, p = 0.24). There were no significant differences between the disease
responses of the 10 accessions in the two trials (leaf wilting: F1,18 = 0.44, p = 0.51; root rot and
healthy root: F1,18 = 0.02, p = 0.88). Disease responses of the `tails' to other fungal root rot
pathogens has been presented in S5 Table. The stock culture and all pathogen reisolates had
identical RAPD profiles, thus fulfilling Koch's postulates [
]. The banding profiles were consistent
across PCR replications.
Phenotypic variability in the mapping panel
The summary statistics of the distribution of phenotypic traits in the mapping panel are
presented in Table 2. The root rot phenotype had a highly significant (p < 0.001) correlation with
leaf wilting (r = 0.826) and plant mortality (r = 0.982). A highly significant (p < 0.001) negative
correlation was also observed between root rot and survival of cuttings (r = ±0.398) and the
number of roots per sapling (r = ±0.333) traits (Fig 2). The yield potential of an accession was
not correlated with root rot susceptibility. There was a significant linear relationship (R2 =
0.682; p < 0.001) between leaf wilting and root rot percentages (Fig 3).
A total of 31 primer pairs of the 161 screened were found to be polymorphic. PCR conditions
were optimized for these primers (Table 3) and were used in DNA fingerprinting of the
mapping panel. These markers amplified a total of 231 alleles (7.45 alleles/locus) in the size range
49±420 bp. M2SSR23 amplified the maximum of 17 alleles, whereas M2SSR51 and M2SSR88
amplified only 2 alleles each. A total of 87 rare alleles (present in < 5% of the accessions) and 3
Fig 2. Correlation among various phenotypic traits observed in the mapping panel. RR, root rot; HR, healthy root;
LW, leaf wilting; PM, plant mortality; S, survival of cuttings; RW-F, fresh root weight per sapling; RW-D, dry root
weight per sapling; NR, number of roots per sapling; RV, root volume; LRL, longest root length per sapling; LY, leaf
yield per plant.
common alleles (present in > 98% of the accessions) were observed. The resolving power of
the 31 SSR markers ranged from 0.07 to 3.66 and totalled 60.8. AFLP fingerprinting of the
mapping panel was performed using 32 selective primer combinations (S2 Table). A total of
20,384 fragments were amplified by these selective primers. Of these, 10,988 (53.9%) had a
frequency < 5%, and 202 had a frequency > 98%.
Genetic diversity, kinship and population stratification
Dice's dissimilarity coefficients among the mulberry accessions ranged from 0.125 to 0.751.
The average dissimilarity was found to be 0.446. Georgia and Assama Bola were closely related,
and the pair S-1 (M. alba L.) and Nao Khurkul (M. laevigata) was the most divergent. The
panel was clustered into 2 broad groups (G1 and G2) by the NJ algorithm, comprising 114 and
100 entries (Fig 4).
Ritland's kinship coefficients calculated based on the SSR marker data ranged from 0 to
0.9318 among the accessions. In the 214 × 214 kinship matrix, 28,058 (61.27%) pairs had a
value of 0, 12,188 (26.61%) pairs had a value 0.05, and 5,386 (11.76%) pairs had a kinship
coefficient in the range > 0.05 to 0.3. Only 164 (0.36%) pairs were highly related to each
other, with kinship coefficients in the range > 0.3 to < 0.95.
Population stratification in the mapping panel was best captured by Structure at K = 2 (Fig
5). The first subpopulation (Q1) comprised 151 accessions, and 63 accessions were clustered in
the second subpopulation (Q2). The exotic cultivar Kousen and 60 indigenous accessions had
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Leaf wilting %
Fig 3. Linear relationship between the leaf wilting and root rot traits.
a membership coefficient > 0.9 in Q1, of which 25 accessions had a membership
coefficient 0.99. In Q2, 2 exotic accessions had a membership coefficient > 0.9. Other than
this, most of the accessions were admixtures (Fig 6). As many as 59 accessions had a
membership coefficient in the range of 0.4±0.6. The first two PCs that captured 7.17% of the total
molecular variance in the mapping panel could delimit the entries into 2 groups with some
overlaps (Fig 7), which is in agreement with the Structure result. NJ clustering also
corroborated the Structure and PCA results. The NJ cluster G1 had 107 entries representing Q1 and 7
entries from Q2. The G2 cluster had 100 entries, of which 56 were from Q2. AMOVA revealed
that 92.55% molecular variance was contained within Structure-defined subpopulations, and
7.45% was partitioned between the subpopulations. The fixation index FST was calculated to
be 0.07453, which indicates a weak population structure. A total of 1623 and 2670 alleles were
private within Q1 and Q2, respectively.
Marker±trait association analysis
Of the 4 statistical models tested, the simple model performed poorly. Correction for
population stratification with the Q matrix from Structure did not appreciably reduce the number of
false associations. However, the model accounting for familial relatedness with the K matrix
from SPAGeDi and a combined Q+K model worked equally well for controlling FDR, as
judged by the MSD values (Table 4) and Q-Q plots (Fig 8). A total of 5 AFLP markers were
found to be significantly associated with charcoal rot resistance. These markers could explain
9.6±12.7% of the total phenotypic variation in the trait (R2) and had an allele frequency of
0.132±0.401. The K model could identify only 1 marker associated with charcoal rot resistance,
which was also identified by the Q+K model. Four AFLP markers (R2 = 10.7±14.2%) with allele
frequencies in the range 0.052±0.728 were significantly associated with survival of cuttings.
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P, optimized concentration of primers (pmol); TA, optimized annealing temperature (ÊC); C, optimized number of PCR cycles; V, volume of PCR products loaded onto
the gels (μl); NA, number of alleles; NR, number of rare alleles; NC, number of common alleles; Rp, resolving power.
The markers E-TG/M-CAG±116 and E-AA/M-CTC±224 were found to be significantly
associated with the survival of cuttings in both the K and Q+K models (Table 5). No significant
MTAs for the number of roots per sapling trait were found.
Population structure and interrelationships in the mapping panel
The heterozygous and outcrossing nature of mulberry translates into a high level of phenotypic
variation within the segregating progeny. Therefore, mulberry is mainly propagated clonally to
ensure uniformity, which is advantageous for cultural operations on a commercial scale.
Rooting ability is one of the main criteria for the selection of an improved mulberry cultivar in
tropical sericulture. Most tropical cultivars have a good rooting ability and can be conveniently
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Fig 4. NJ dendrogram of the mapping panel. The Structure-defined subpopulation Q1 is coloured red, and Q2 is coloured blue.
multiplied using stem cuttings. Temperate cultivars, polyploids and wild species, which
generally do not root well, are propagated by grafting [
]. Furthermore, it has also been reported
that establishing M. serrata Roxb. in non-native eco-climatic conditions is difficult [
PDG comprises 300 entries from 17 countries and represents 10 Morus spp. Of these, 96
entries were exotic, 26 were classified as M. laevigata, and M. serrata was represented by 7
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Fig 5. Variation in ΔK values across different subpopulation numbers.
entries. A total of 214 entries (S4 Table) were found to root and could be utilized in the present
study. Krishnan  reported that genetic distance among the PDG entries was in the range
0.071±0.865, with an average of 0.554. Based on the results of the present study, it can be
concluded that not much genetic diversity has been lost, even though 86 entries of the PDG were
not a part of the mapping panel. Moreover, screening poor rooting accessions for root rot
resistance is irrelevant because they are propagated by grafting onto stocks of cultivars with
good rooting ability [
], and therefore lack true to type root system.
Fig 6. Proportion of subpopulation membership of the 214 diverse mulberry accessions inferred by Structure.
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Fig 7. Population stratification in the mapping panel deciphered by PCA. Inset: Eigenvalues of the principal components. The Structure-defined subpopulation Q1
is coloured red, and Q2 is coloured blue.
MTA, marker±trait associations; MSD, mean of the squared differences between expected and observed p-values.
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Fig 8. Distribution of expected and observed p-values of different statistical models used in marker±trait association analysis of charcoal rot resistance (A) and
survival of cuttings (B).
Germplasm collections consist of genetic resources sampled from different populations and
are therefore invariably structured to various extents [
]. Bayesian clustering by Structure
could identify two subpopulations in the mapping panel. NJ clustering and PCA also support
this result. Q1 and Q2 contained 7.69% and 12.66% private alleles, respectively. AMOVA
showed that the variance between the subpopulation was very low (7.45%). The fixation index
(FST = 0.07453) also indicates a weak population structure. Except for 60 indigenous
accessions having a higher membership coefficient in Q1, geographic and taxonomic affinities were
not reflected in the Bayesian clustering. From these results and as expected, it is very clear that
the two subpopulations are admixed to a great extent. All mulberry accessions in the mapping
panel, other than 6 entries representing the wild species M. laevigata, belong to cultivated
15 / 25
species. The cultivated species have dispersed from their centre of origin and established in
different countries, including India, and were also introduced from secondary sources at different
points in time or bred by crossing naturalized/adapted varieties with introduced materials. No
reproductive barrier exists among Morus spp. They freely intercross, even among species with
different ploidy levels [
], and hence, we cannot expect population stratification. The
weak population structure makes this set of germplasm ideal for association mapping.
The AM panel also comprised the `kernel', which consists of accessions frequently used in
breeding programmes in India over the past five decades and improved cultivars. Mutants and
full-sib, half-sib and first-cousin relationships exist in these accessions [
], and the same is
reflected in the kinship matrix based on Ritland's coefficient.
Phenotyping for root rot resistance
Having a reliable and efficient technique for screening disease reactions is quite important for
the assessment of resistance. Although sick plot screening is considered to be a more realistic
method for the evaluation of disease response [
], it may not be very reliable due to
non-uniform concentration and non-random distribution of inoculum within and between fields [
Variability in the virulence of pathogenic isolates between fields also affects the disease
]. Moreover, the method may not be suitable for screening a perennial such as
mulberry. Toothpick inoculation is another technique commonly used in annuals, wherein
inoculum is introduced through the stalks [
]. This method cannot be implemented in
mulberry because it is woody in nature. Furthermore, the method is unsatisfactory because it does
not simulate the natural infection process, and the level of disease development is usually less
when compared to infection through roots [
]. The results obtained in the present study
indicate that artificial inoculation of mulberry saplings in pots was quite reliable in terms of
reproducibility and logistically feasible for large-scale screening of germplasm. This is the first study
in mulberry wherein a large set of germplasm was assessed for disease response to M.
phaseolina, resulting in the identification of 20 accessions with genetic resistance to charcoal rot.
These accessions can be integrated into conventional breeding programmes and used as donor
parents for genetic improvement of elite cultivars for charcoal rot resistance.
Traits associated with root rot resistance
A highly significant positive correlation was observed between root rot and leaf wilting
(r = 0.826; p < 0.001) in the present study (Fig 2, Fig 3). Therefore, leaf wilting can be used as a
predictor variable to assess disease progression in terms of root rot percentage in the field.
Such estimates will be important for taking up timely control measures on the required scale.
Survival of cuttings and number of roots per sapling were found to be associated with root
rot resistance, as these traits had a highly significant negative correlation with leaf wilting, root
rot and plant mortality percentages (Fig 2). The survival of cuttings is a measure of the rooting
ability of the genotype. Formation of adventitious roots and shoots from the uninfected
portions was observed in some resistant and moderately resistant accessions (Fig 9). Du et al. [
reported that many defence-related genes were activated during root formation in mulberry.
An increase in sugar transport towards the rooting zone has also been observed during
adventitious rooting [
] and may contribute to disease resistance . In sorghum, it was
observed that a loss of up to 50% of the roots due to infection had little impact on the leaf
water potential [
]. Higher numbers of roots and root regeneration allow plants to sustain
water and nutrient mining capability even though parts of the root system are deteriorated due
to infection, thereby allowing them to survive. Because the infected plants have to reallocate a
substantial amount of photosynthate and stored carbohydrates for regeneration of roots and
16 / 25
Fig 9. Adventitious shoot (A, B) and root (B, C) regeneration in mulberry infected with M. phaseolina.
17 / 25
defence, there will be a loss of vigour. Drought stress and unavailability of nutrition aggravate
the problem by decreasing photosynthetic efficiency and render the plants quasi-defenceless.
Therefore, mitigation of these stresses by enhancing soil fertility and providing sufficient
irrigation becomes crucial in saving the plantation. Nutrient availability is known to prevent
] and increases the diversity of beneficial soil microflora, which contributes to the
control of the pathogen [
]. Furthermore, the survival of cuttings and the number of roots
per sapling must be considered as component traits for root rot resistance, and selection of
hybrids with higher survival of cuttings and number of roots per sapling must be emphasized
in root rot resistance breeding programmes.
Markers for charcoal rot resistance and associated traits
The charcoal rot resistance trait has a near-normal distribution in the mapping panel, as
judged by the distribution of leaf wilting, root rot, healthy root and plant mortality percentages
(Table 2). Not much variation in the root traits was present in the mapping panel, as can be
inferred from the variance values. This is expected because the mapping panel does not include
the poor rooters from the PDG. For association analysis, alleles of all frequencies were
retained. Of late, there has been a growing realization that by excluding low frequency alleles,
many rare variants are missed out [
]. Tabangin et al.  found that leaving out such
alleles due to concerns about inflating the FDR may not be appropriate, as even alleles with
lower frequencies showed type I error rates close to nominal levels. With appropriate measures
for controlling FDR, the inclusion of minor alleles can result in the discovery of rare genetic
variants underlying complex traits [
]. The Q model was not very effective in controlling
FDR as expected because the mapping panel is only weekly structured and most of the
accessions are admixtures. K and Q+K models performed adequately in controlling FDR (Table 4,
Fig 8). Five markers significantly associated with charcoal rot resistance and four markers for
survival of cuttings have been identified (Table 5). No significant MTAs for the number of
roots per sapling could be found, perhaps due to a lack of sufficient variability for the trait in
the mapping panel. However, Mishra [
] identified RAPD and ISSR markers linked to this
trait in the F1 mapping population derived from Dudhia White × UP-105 by single marker
analysis. Sequencing all these markers and chromosome walking will be useful for elucidating
the molecular mechanism of root rot resistance. Conversion of these markers into SCARs or
CAPSs will help in efficient and rapid genotyping of germplasm or introgression lines for
Although mixed-model association mapping approaches are adept at controlling false
positives, stringent control for population stratification also results in false negatives [
Segregating F1 progeny from crosses between resistant and susceptible genotypes can be used to further
validate the markers identified in the present study by linkage mapping and to look for
additional QTLs. Once validated, breeding resistance to charcoal rot can be expedited by MAS.
Based on the disease response, sex expression and genetic dissimilarity, the following parental
combinations will be best suited for generation of mapping populations: (1) M. multicaulis
(ME-0006, resistant, ♀) × Thailand Male (ME-0033, highly susceptible, ♂); (2) M. multicaulis
(ME-0168, resistant, ♀) × Thailand Male (ME-0033, highly susceptible, ♂); and (3) Punjab Local
(MI-0026, highly susceptible, ♀) × M. cathayana (Hybrid) (ME-0254, resistant, ♂).
It would be oversimplification if we were to assume root rot to be only a host × pathogen
interaction. Studies in various crops have clearly demonstrated that the disease outcome is greatly
influenced by genotype (host/pathogen) × environment interactions [
80, 83, 88, 97, 98
18 / 25
Previous results have indicated that soil water deficit has a major role in predisposing mulberry
to charcoal rot [
], and soil moisture levels below 30% increase disease severity [
stress greatly affects mulberry, and leaf yield is reduced to one-third in comparison to the
same cultivar gown under optimal irrigation [
]. It has been reported that drought stress
deferentially regulates 1051 genes in mulberry [
]. WRKY transcription factors, which play key
roles in plant defence signalling and disease resistance [
], were differentially regulated
in response to drought stress [
]. The role of these transcription factors in resistance to
charcoal rot remains to be investigated.
Harvesting leaves or shoots for silkworm rearing and complete pruning of plants once
every 70 days are an integral part of the mulberry cropping system . This means that
for 1±2 weeks in each cropping cycle, the plants completely depend on stored nutrients
for their survival and regeneration. The effects of repeated pruning on mulberry are not
well understood. However, the plants are particularly vulnerable to root rot-causing
pathogens due to photosynthetic stress±translocation balance [
]. If environmental stressors
act in tandem with pruning stress, it can be highly detrimental to mulberry plantations.
Further investigations must be undertaken to understand the pruning stress associated
physiological, biochemical and gene expression changes. The effects of moisture deficit,
high temperatures, nutritional imbalances and soilborne pathogens in combination with
pruning stress also need to be investigated for developing effective strategies to manage
The wide distribution of root rot-causing pathogens in the South Indian sericulture belt
and their genetic diversity [
] are an important source of concern because a dynamic pathogen
population is in a perpetual `arms race' and can easily evolve to overcome host disease
]. A continuous programme for scouting the emergences of new virulent isolates
and systematic monitoring of various pathogen populations must be initiated. This will be
vital for disease forecasting, taking up adequate control measures and sustaining efforts in
genetic improvement of mulberry for root rot resistance.
Though quantitative disease resistance for Fusarium spp. and B. theobromae infection
has been reported in mulberry [
6, 105, 106
], large-scale screening of germplasm for disease
response to these pathogens has not been performed. The results obtained in the present
study (S5 Table) indicate the availability of genetic resistance to all fungal root rot
pathogens in M. multicaulis (ME-168) and M. cathayana (Hybrid). Further studies must be
initiated to assess the entries in the mapping panel for their reaction to F. solani, F. oxysporum
and B. theobromae for identification of accessions with resistance to multiple fungal root rot
pathogens. Mining QTLs for resistance to other root rot pathogens or QTLs with pleiotropic
effects against multiple pathogens will be useful for breeding durable broad-spectrum
resistance by gene pyramiding.
With the advent of next-generation sequencing technologies, comparative transcriptomic
studies have been used to understand the molecular mechanisms that regulate abiotic and
biotic stress tolerance in mulberry [
99, 107, 108
]. Similar efforts towards understanding
resistance to root rot pathogens will be more comprehensive and will help in the development of
functional markers for root rot resistance.
The PDG was established at CSRTI, Mysuru, in 2015 as a part of this study, making the
genetic resources available for extensive phenotyping of agronomically important traits. The
genotypic information generated on the mapping panel in the present study can be further
enriched with additional markers and used to identify QTLs associated with the traits of
interest. Utilization of these resources will be efficacious in genetic diversification and
improvement of mulberry cultivars.
19 / 25
S1 Table. Estimate of the cost and returns from mulberry sericulture.
S2 Table. List of oligonucleotides used in AFLP Genotyping.
S3 Table. SSR primers screened for marker amplification.
S4 Table. Details of the mulberry germplasm screened for charcoal root rot resistance.
S5 Table. Disease responses of the `tails'.
The authors thank Prof. Dr. H.S. Prakash, Department of Studies in Biotechnology, University
of Mysore, Mysuru, for having extended the NanoDrop 2000C facility. The authors gratefully
acknowledge Dr. V. Nishita Naik, Ms. Rani A., and Mrs. Kruthika H.S. for their assistance
with this study.
Conceptualization: Marian Vincent Pinto, V. Girish Naik.
Data curation: Marian Vincent Pinto.
Formal analysis: Marian Vincent Pinto.
Funding acquisition: Marian Vincent Pinto, V. Girish Naik.
Investigation: Marian Vincent Pinto, Poornima H. S., Rukmangada M. S., Triveni R.
Methodology: Marian Vincent Pinto, V. Girish Naik.
Project administration: V. Girish Naik.
Resources: V. Girish Naik.
Supervision: V. Girish Naik.
Visualization: Marian Vincent Pinto.
Writing ± original draft: Marian Vincent Pinto.
Writing ± review & editing: Marian Vincent Pinto, V. Girish Naik.
20 / 25
21 / 25
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