Using genome or DNA sequencing, Clemson University’s genetics team created the “highest-quality DNA sequence” for crops in the cotton family as the school’s geneticists seek to develop varieties resistant to climate change, pests and other threats.
“We believe this sequence, or DNA roadmap, will provide the foundation for more sustainable crops to be grown,” Chris Saski, a genomics professor in Clemson’s plant and environmental sciences department, said in a news release. Throughout the team’s research, they compared two domesticated cotton breeds, upland and pima cotton, with wild varieties to pinpoint genes with conductive fiber traits and disease resistance, among other traits.
South Carolina farmers tend to favor upland cotton, while pima cotton is starting to make a comeback after the breed’s 100-year absence from the state.
“Cotton has an annual economic impact of $500 billion worldwide,” Saski said in the release. “But it currently is threatened by several devastating diseases, such as fusarium wilt and nematode infection, that impact growing areas, including the southeastern United States.”
In South Carolina alone, 300,000 acres, or $141 million worth, of cotton were planted in 2019.
“Understanding the genetics of traits between and within species could help us understand why pima and upland perform so differently, despite being closely related,” Sarah Holladay, said in the release. She is a master’s student from Florence who is working with the team. “Research such as this will benefit farmers by increasing the usefulness of high-quality pima materials for breeding and agronomic development.”
Other team members include Michael Jones, a cotton specialist with Clemson’s extension service, and Todd Campbell, cotton geneticist of the U.S. Department of Agricultural Research Service at Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center. Final results of the research were published in the latest issue of Nature Genetics magazine.
“The environment is constantly changing,” Saski said in the release. “Some cotton varieties may become less able to adapt to these changes and production may be lessened. We need to be able to use the latest advances in molecular biology and biotechnology to rapidly breed new cotton varieties that farmers can grow and be profitable.”s