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Open Access Research article

Genetic analysis of tolerance to Boron toxicity in the legume Medicago truncatula

Paul Bogacki1, David M Peck1, Ramakrishnan M Nair13, Jake Howie1 and Klaus H Oldach12*

Author affiliations

1 South Australian Research and Development Institute, Plant Genomics Centre, Waite Campus, Urrbrae, SA, 5064, Australia

2 University of Adelaide, Waite Campus, Urrbrae, SA, 5064, Australia

3 AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center, ICRISAT Campus, Patancheru 502 324, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

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Citation and License

BMC Plant Biology 2013, 13:54  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-13-54

Published: 27 March 2013



Medicago truncatula Gaertn. (barrel medic) is cultivated as a pasture legume for its high protein content and ability to improve soils through nitrogen fixation. Toxic concentrations of the micronutrient Boron (B) in agricultural soils hamper the production of cereal and leguminous crops. In cereals, the genetic analysis of B tolerance has led to the development of molecular selection tools to introgress and maintain the B tolerance trait in breeding lines. There is a comparable need for selection tools in legumes that grow on these toxic soils, often in rotation with cereals.


Genetic variation for B tolerance in Medicago truncatula was utilised to generate two F2 populations from crosses between tolerant and intolerant parents. Phenotyping under B stress revealed a close correlation between B tolerance and biomass production and a segregation ratio explained by a single dominant locus. M. truncatula homologues of the Arabidopsis major intrinsic protein (MIP) gene AtNIP5;1 and the efflux-type transporter gene AtBOR1, both known for B transport, were identified and nearby molecular markers screened across F2 lines to verify linkage with the B-tolerant phenotype. Most (95%) of the phenotypic variation could be explained by the SSR markers h2_6e22a and h2_21b19a, which flank a cluster of five predicted MIP genes on chromosome 4. Three CAPS markers (MtBtol-1,-2,-3) were developed to dissect the region further. Expression analysis of the five predicted MIPs indicated that only MtNIP3 was expressed when leaf tissue and roots were assessed. MtNIP3 showed low and equal expression in the roots of tolerant and intolerant lines but a 4-fold higher expression level in the leaves of B-tolerant cultivars. The expression profile correlates closely with the B concentration measured in the leaves and roots of tolerant and intolerant plants. Whereas no significant difference in B concentration exists between roots of tolerant and intolerant plants, the B concentration in the leaves of tolerant plants is less than half that of intolerant plants, which further supports MtNIP3 as the best candidate for the tolerance trait-defining gene in Medicago truncatula.


The close linkage of the MtNIP3 locus to B toxicity tolerance provides a source of molecular selection tools to pasture breeding programs. The economical importance of the locus warrants further investigation of the individual members of the MIP gene cluster in other pasture and in grain legumes.

Medicago truncatula; Abiotic stress; Legume; Boron toxicity tolerance; Genetic analysis; MtNIP3; Gene cluster; Differential expression