Open Access Research article

Two in one sweep: aluminum tolerance and grain yield in P-limited soils are associated to the same genomic region in West African Sorghum

Willmar L Leiser12*, Henry Frederick W Rattunde2, Eva Weltzien2, Ndiaga Cisse3, Magagi Abdou4, Abdoulaye Diallo5, Abocar O Tourè5, Jurandir V Magalhaes6 and Bettina IG Haussmann1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Plant Breeding, Seed Science and Population Genetics, University of Hohenheim, Fruwirthstr. 21, Stuttgart, 70599, Germany

2 International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Bamako, Mali

3 Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles, Thiès, Senegal

4 Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, CERRA de Maradi, Maradi, Niger

5 L’Institut d’Economie Rurale, Bamako, Mali

6 Embrapa Maize and Sorghum, Rod. MG 424, Km 65, Sete Lagoas, 35701-970, Minas Gerais, Brazil

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BMC Plant Biology 2014, 14:206  doi:10.1186/s12870-014-0206-6

Published: 12 August 2014



Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L. Moench) productivity is severely impeded by low phosphorus (P) and aluminum (Al) toxic soils in sub-Saharan Africa and especially West Africa (WA). Improving productivity of this staple crop under these harsh conditions is crucial to improve food security and farmer’s incomes in WA.


This is the first study to examine the genetics underlying sorghum adaptation to phosphorus limitation in a wide range of WA growing conditions. A set of 187 diverse sorghum genotypes were grown in 29 –P and + P field experiments from 2006-2012 in three WA countries. Sorghum grain yield performance under –P and + P conditions was highly correlated (r = 0.85***). Significant genotype-by-phosphorus interaction was detected but with small magnitude compared to the genotype variance component. We observed high genetic diversity within our panel, with rapid linkage disequilibrium decay, confirming recent sequence based studies in sorghum. Using genome wide association mapping based on 220 934 SNPs we identified one genomic region on chromosome 3 that was highly associated to grain yield production. A major Al-tolerance gene in sorghum, SbMATE, was collocated in this region and SbMATE specific SNPs showed very high associations to grain yield production, especially under –P conditions, explaining up to 16% of the genotypic variance.


The results suggest that SbMATE has a possible pleiotropic role in providing tolerance to two of the most serious abiotic stresses for sorghum in WA, Al toxicity and P deficiency. The identified SNPs can help accelerate breeding for increased sorghum productivity under unfavorable soil conditions and contribute to assuring food security in WA.

Sorghum; Phosphorus; Aluminum; Breeding; Genetics; West Africa