Crop Biotech Update

Taking the Initial Step Towards Dev't of Epigenetically Modified Cotton

June 7, 2017

American cotton farmers face tough times with the prevailing unpredictable weather and decrease in prices of cotton. With the new study of Z. Jeffrey Chen of The University of Texas at Austin, cotton farmers might have better days ahead. Chen and team developed more productive cotton using epigenetic modification. The study is published in Genome Biology.

The researchers identified over 500 genes that are epigenetically modified between wild cotton varieties and domesticated cotton. Some of these genes are known to be linked to agronomic and domestication traits. This information could help breeders select which genes they want to modify such as resistance to drought, heat or pests.

They found changes in DNA methylation as wild varieties combined to form hybrids, the hybrids adapted to changes in their environment and finally, humans domesticated them. One important finding is that the change that allowed cotton to go from a plant adapted to grow only in the tropics to one that grows in other parts of the world was not a genetic change, but an epigenetic one. Furthermore, they discovered that wild cotton has a methylated gene that prevents it from flowering when daylight hours are long–as they are in the summer in many places, including the United States and China. In domesticated cotton, the same gene lost this methylation, allowing the gene to be expressed, an epigenetic change that allowed cotton to go global.

Read the original article from UT News.