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 cottons 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,