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Joint Project Seeks Higher-Strength Cotton Fiber

By Sean Adams
June 6, 1997

Breeding cotton varieties that produce higher-strength fibers is the goal of a joint research project between U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists and the biotechnology company Agracetus.

In the scheduled five-year research effort, scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service are evaluating transgenic cotton plants produced by Agracetus, a Middleton, Wisconsin-based unit of Monsanto.

ARS scientists at Florence, S.C., select the most promising transgenic plants and cross them, through conventional breeding, with other varieties to develop cotton plants that produce fiber with higher strength than current varieties.

Stronger cotton fiber is important to industry because new high-speed machinery used to produce cotton yarn requires stronger fiber to work most effectively. This new technology has been driven by global competition that has forced manufacturers to produce more cotton yarn and fabric at less cost.

Higher-strength fabric could give the United States an edge in the global textile market. U.S. cotton exports are expected to be 7-7.5 million bales in 1996-97--slightly less than the 7.7 million bales in 1995-96 and considerably lower than the near-record 9.4 million bales in 1994-95.

Another factor: Clothing that’s 100-percent cotton--but still wrinkle-resistant--has become more popular in recent years. But to achieve wrinkle resistance, manufactures must chemically treat the fabric, a process that can cause a 30- to 50-percent reduction in the fabric’s strength. Scientists say this impact could be partly offset with fiber that starts out naturally stronger.

Scientific contact: O. Lloyd May, ARS Coastal Plains Soil, Water and Plant Research Laboratory, Florence, South Carolina, phone (803) 669-5203, ext. 7255, fax (803) 662-3110,