University of Georgia researchers, working with representatives from most of the world’s major cotton-producing countries, have led the description of the first ‘gold-standard’ genome sequence for cotton.

In the Dec. 20 edition of the journal Nature, an international consortium of researchers from 31 institutions presents a high-quality draft assembly of the simplest cotton genome — known scientifically as Gossypium raimondii.

Additionally, the team compared the genome from this ancestral species indigenous to the Americas to several other sets of cotton data contributed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The results have allowed the researchers to trace the evolution of cotton over millions of years from wild varieties to the domesticated species now associated with textile production.

The effort to develop a gold standard sequence of the cotton genome was jump-started in 2007 when the U. S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute Community Sequencing Program approved a proposal from UGA Regents Professor Andrew Paterson.

Among the 74 authors of the paper, 18 were from UGA, the largest among the 31 institutions involved.

“My group set out toward this goal in 1991, and this achievement is not an ending but a beginning,” Paterson said.

“We are enthusiastically pursuing the next steps using the genome sequence to better understand cotton biology and identify important genes that will improve sustainability of cotton production and increase its role in the more bio-based economy of the future.”

The DOE hopes to maximize cotton’s potential as a biofuel stock while developing more efficient and sustainable crop varieties for the fiber’s traditional uses.

Improving cotton for fiber and energy production

This new “cotton data will help accelerate the study of gene function, particularly cellulose biosynthesis, the understanding of which is fundamental to improved biofuels production,” said Jeremy Schmutz, head of the DOE Joint Genome Institute Plant Program and a faculty investigator at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Schmutz led the effort to sequence and assemble the genome for the Joint Genome Institute.

“In addition, the unique structure of the cotton fiber makes it useful in bioremediation, and accelerated cotton crop improvement also promises to improve water efficiency and reduce pesticide use.”

The worldwide cotton community chose G. raimondii to be the first of 50 cotton species sequenced as the best model for the New World progenitor of commercially important upland and pima cottons.

In collaboration with Mississippi State University and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, Paterson and others selected several additional genomes for sequencing, which enabled the team to trace cotton’s evolution and the gene duplications that accelerated fiber development.