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Crop Biotech Update

'Exotic' Genes to Help Improve Cotton Yield and Quality

May 2, 2019

Cotton breeders face a significant challenge as cotton yield is inversely related to fiber quality. As yield improves, fiber quality decreases, and vice-versa.

To overcome this challenge, the research team led by Peng Chee from the University of Georgia turned to obsolete cultivars of cotton with ‘exotic' genetic material. The team looked at the genetics of the Sealand cultivars, which were developed from two different cotton species, Upland and Sea Island. Sea Island cotton is also known as "Pima" or Egyptian cotton" from the species Gossypium barbadense, and is used in high quality garments and linens, due to its long, strong and fine fibers. Upland cotton from G. hirsutum, mostly grown in the United States, has higher yields and broader adaptation, but has lower fiber quality than Pima cotton. "The breeding challenge lies in transferring Pima fiber quality to Upland," says Chee.

The research team generated genetic maps of two Sealand cultivars and found that the superior fiber quality of Sealand cotton were in part due to genes inherited from the Sea Island cotton. They also found that two of the three genetic segments controlling fiber length in one of the Sealand cultivars were inherited from the Sea Island parent. "Now that we know which part of the genome controls fiber quality, we can now develop tools to select for these traits. We can also select desirable combinations of genes to improve multiple fiber quality traits," says Chee.

For more details, read the article in the Crop Science Society of America website.