Bio-fortification of maize with elevated Zinc (Zn) and Iron (Fe) holds considerable promise for alleviating under-nutrition among the world’s poor.


Bio-fortification through molecular breeding could be an economical strategy for developing nutritious maize, and hence in this study, we adopted GWAS to identify markers associated with high kernel-Zn and Fe in maize and subsequently validated marker-trait associations in independent bi-parental populations. For GWAS, we evaluated a diverse maize association mapping panel of 923 inbred lines across three environments and detected trait associations using high-density Single nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs) obtained through genotyping-by-sequencing. Phenotyping trials of the GWAS panel showed high heritability and moderate correlation between kernel-Zn and Fe concentrations. GWAS revealed a total of 46 SNPs (Zn-20 and Fe-26) significantly associated (P ≤ 5.03 × 10−05) with kernel-Zn and Fe concentrations with some of these associated SNPs located within previously reported QTL intervals for these traits. Three double-haploid (DH) populations were developed using lines identified from the panel that were contrasting for these micronutrients. The DH populations were phenotyped at two environments and were used for validating significant SNPs (P ≤ 1 × 10−03) based on single marker QTL analysis. Based on this analysis, 11 (Zn) and 11 (Fe) SNPs were found to have significant effect on the trait variance (P ≤ 0.01, R2 ≥ 0.05) in at least one bi-parental population. These findings are being pursued in the kernel-Zn and Fe breeding program, and could hold great value in functional analysis and possible cloning of high-value genes for these traits in maize.