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From Genes to Jeans: Moving King Cotton Ahead in the 21st Century / February 14, 2001 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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From Genes to Jeans: Moving King Cotton Ahead in the 21st Century

By Linda McGraw
February 14, 2001

Higher yielding, stronger and longer fiber cotton varieties may arrive in the 21st century because Agricultural Research Service scientists are developing an integrated physical-genetic map to build new genomic tools for cotton improvement.

Cotton germplasm development has lagged behind that of corn, soybeans and wheat. But King Cotton may catch up this century. The ARS National Cotton Germplasm Genebank at College Station, Texas, maintains 7,456 accessions of U.S. cotton and up to 6,000 more accessions are coming through international exchanges with other countries. Finding useful genes from this germplasm has been difficult without molecular markers and a map that integrates physical traits with genes, according to ARS cotton geneticist John Yu.

Now Yu and Russell J. Kohel, research leader for cotton germplasm research, are cataloguing this material in genetic “libraries” that may make it easier to open up cotton’s genetic resources for higher yields, stronger fiber, seed quality and other traits. ARS researchers collaborated with Texas A&M University researchers and reported their research findings at the International Conference on the Status of Plant and Animal Genome Research.

Presently, less than 1 percent of U.S. cotton germplasm has been exploited in developing cotton varieties. Meanwhile, U.S. cotton yield and quality have been on a plateau for the last decade. Most scientists agree that moving off the plateau will require new genes. Those genes can come only from the ARS genebank. The U.S. and international cotton research community has initiated several projects to apply such ARS-developed genomic resources in mining the genes of agronomic and economic significance.

Improved fiber quality for cotton could give the U.S. an edge in the global textile market. U.S. cotton exports were 7-7.5 million bales, worth more than $2 billion, in 1999-2000. Additionally, the U.S. textile industry processed 11 to 12 million bales of cotton into jeans, shirts, sheets and many other products. The industry depends upon improvements in fiber quality to continue to upgrade its manufacturing efficiency and product quality.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: John Yu, ARS Southern Crops Research Laboratory, College Station, Texas, phone (979) 260-9237, fax (979) 260-9333, zyu@algodon.tamu.edu.

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