AbstractBACKGROUND:Spring wheat is the largest agricultural crop grown in Kazakhstan with an annual sowing area of 12 million hectares in 2016. Annually, the country harvests around 15 million tons of high quality grain. Despite environmental stress factors it is predicted that the use of new technologies may lead to increases in productivity from current levels of 1.5 to up to 3 tons per hectare. One way of improving wheat productivity is by the application of new genomic oriented approaches in plant breeding projects. Genome wide association studies (GWAS) are emerging as powerful tools for the understanding of the inheritance of complex traits via utilization of high throughput genotyping technologies and phenotypic assessments of plant collections. In this study, phenotyping and genotyping data on 194 spring wheat accessions from Kazakhstan, Russia, Europe, and CIMMYT were assessed for the identification of marker-trait associations (MTA) of agronomic traits by using GWAS.RESULTS:Field trials in Northern, Central and Southern regions of Kazakhstan using 194 spring wheat accessions revealed strong correlations of yield with booting date, plant height, biomass, number of spikes per plant, and number of kernels per spike. The accessions from Europe and CIMMYT showed high breeding potential for Southern and Central regions of the country in comparison with the performance of the local varieties. The GGE biplot method, using average yield per plant, suggested a clear separation of accessions into their three breeding origins in relationship to the three environments in which they were evaluated. The genetic variation in the three groups of accessions was further studied using 3245 polymorphic SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) markers. The application of Principal Coordinate analysis clearly grouped the 194 accessions into three clades according to their breeding origins. GWAS on data from nine field trials allowed the identification of 114 MTAs for 12 different agronomic traits.CONCLUSIONS:Field evaluation of foreign germplasm revealed its poor yield performance in Northern Kazakhstan, which is the main wheat growing region in the country. However, it was found that EU and CIMMYT germplasm has high breeding potential to improve yield performance in Central and Southern regions. The use of Principal Coordinate analysis clearly separated the panel into three distinct groups according to their breeding origin. GWAS based on use of the TASSEL 5.0 package allowed the identification of 114 MTAs for twelve agronomic traits. The study identifies a network of key genes for improvement of yield productivity in wheat growing regions of Kazakhstan.