As published in the December 20 issue of Nature, an international consortium of scientists has assembled a ‘gold standard’ sequence of the simplest cotton variety (Gossypium raimondii) and compared it to ‘draft’ sequences of three other Gossypium species, one of which was an Upland cotton variety. This scientific breakthrough leverages new biology to put cotton on a trajectory to increase yields, fiber quality, and to make more efficient use of the inputs necessary to grow cotton.
The research is a joint effort by a consortium of international scientists representing varied scientific research disciplines and spans more than 20 years. Led by Dr. Andrew Paterson from the University of Georgia, the findings will help expedite the development of robust and innovative cotton varieties that will help meet the fiber and food demands of a growing population, and can help optimize the use of inputs and, thus, contribute to reducing environmental impact of growing cotton.
Dr. Kater Hake, Vice-President of Agricultural & Environmental Research at Cotton Incorporated, puts the relevance of this breakthrough research into context: “The majority of the 400 research projects funded by Cotton Incorporated each year focus on ways to maximize efficiencies of cotton crops in varied geographic regions, each facing varying challenges. Essential to that goal is understanding cotton plant biology at its most fundamental level.”
This blueprint of the simplest cotton genome will provide cotton breeders a detailed roadmap of where desirable genetic traits are located. “Whether a grower subscribes to organic or conventional farming practices, this research will speed to market improved cotton varieties that address specific soil, weather and pest-related challenges in the U.S. Cotton Belt and beyond,” adds Hake.
On a broader scientific level, these whole genome comparisons provide insight into “how a polyploid becomes more than the sum of its parts,” says Dr. Paterson. Adding credence to the value of this research is the fact that no cotton-centric research has been published in Nature since 1961.
Dr. Don Jones, Director of Agricultural & Environmental Research at Cotton Incorporated, was the point-person for the company’s participation in the project. “As a not-for-profit, Cotton Incorporated offered modest financial support of the project. We supplemented this contribution by facilitating communications between the researchers representing 31 institutions from around the world. This Nature publication demonstrates that wise investment of grower and importer supplied funding produces cutting edge research. This accomplishment is a cornerstone that will enable us to more thoroughly understand the biology that leads to higher yield, improved fiber quality, and better stress tolerance while reducing inputs used in producing the crop. This enhances the sustainability of cotton and further broadens its appeal as the “The Fabric of Our Lives®”.
The value of cotton fiber grown in the U.S. exceeds $6 billion per year. Cottonseed oil and meal byproducts add another $1 billion annually. More than 200,000 domestic jobs are related to cotton production and processing, with an aggregate influence of $35 billion on the annual U.S. gross domestic product.
Cotton Incorporated, funded by U.S. growers of upland cotton and importers of cotton and cotton textile products, is the research and marketing company representing upland cotton. The Program is designed and operated to improve the demand for and profitability of cotton.