Lucerne (Medicago sativa) is the main forage crop in southern Europe and could gain further importance for water- and energy-efficient crop-livestock systems in the context of climate change, especially if its drought tolerance could be enhanced. The objective of the research work is to improve its forage yield and persistence and its forage quality for moisture-favourable and severely drought-prone environments, through genomic selection models developed from a genome-wide set of molecular markers. Genomic selection, which is particularly useful to select for complex, quantitatively inherited traits, has never been applied to forage legumes. Its current application is made possible by the recent development of sufficient genomic resources by the outgoing institution (the Noble Foundation, Ardmore, USA), where the genotyping work will be performed. Phenotyping under moisture-favourable and severe drought-stress conditions will be carried out in the return institution (CRA-FLC, Lodi, Italy) exploiting its platform of large artificial environments. Quantitative trait loci (QTL) for the target traits will also be identified, and different strategies and techniques for defining marker assisted selection procedures will be compared.
The objective of the training activity is to strengthen and widen the competences of the candidate in genomics and molecular breeding, with regard to: i) optimization of genotyping as a function of marker type, available resources, research objectives, and plant material and reproductive system; ii) statistical analysis of marker-trait association and QTL location for different breeding systems and experimental situations (biparental mapping populations, association mapping, bulk segregant analysis, etc.); iii) definition and validation of genomic selection models; iv) marker-assisted selection strategies. The new skills and competences will be transferred to staff of the return institution through seminars and individual training.
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