Trend, population structure, and trait mapping from 15 years of national varietal trials of UK winter wheat.

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There are now a rich variety of genomic and genotypic resources available to wheat researchers and breeders. However, the generation of high-quality and field-relevant phenotyping data which is required to capture the complexities of gene x environment interactions remains a major bottleneck. Historical datasets from national variety performance trials (NVPT) provide sufficient dimensions, in terms of numbers of years and locations, to examine phenotypic trends and study gene x environment interactions. Using NVPT for winter wheat varieties grown in the UK between 2002 – 2017, we examined temporal trends for eight traits related to yield, adaptation, and grain quality performance. We show a non-stationary linear trend for yield, grain protein content, HFN and days to ripening. Our data also show high environmental stability for yield, grain protein content and specific weight in UK winter wheat varieties and high environmental sensitivity for Hagberg Falling Number. We also show that UK varieties released within this period cluster into four main population groups. Using the historical NVPT data in a genome-wide association analysis, we uncovered a significant marker-trait association peak on wheat chromosome 6A spanning the NAM-A1 gene that have been previously associated with early senescence. Together our results show the value of utilizing the data routinely collected during national variety evaluation process for examining breeding progress and the genetic architecture of important traits.