Getting the cotton genome into the game is one way to make cotton more competitive for acreage with other crop options in the Southeast, says veteran Cotton Incorporated Geneticist Don Jones.

Speaking at the ongoing Cotton Competitiveness Conference in Raleigh, N.C., Jones says the cost of genome mapping has gone down significantly over the past decade. “The decrease in cost over the past decade would be like buying a Ferrari 10 years ago and today buying the same car for 25 cents,” he explains.

Much of the same technology used by the U.S. government to track potential terrorists is used to map plant genomes. This ‘big data’ makes it feasible from time and money perspectives to do the work needed to develop the total plant genome we just couldn’t afford a few years back, he adds.

The cotton genome, compared to crops like wheat is relatively simple. Relatively being the key word, because the cotton genome still consists of 1.6 billion base pairs of genes. One component of the genome map is done and the other should be available to researchers soon, Jones says.

While the cost of genome mapping has come down dramatically, the cost of phenotyping has not been lowered significantly. Phenotyping includes seed and fiber characteristics and how these translate into field production.

For example, Jones says, we have known since 2008 that somewhere in the cotton library there is a gene that makes the cotton plant undesirable for root knot nematodes (RKN). “Today, we know what book in the library the gene can be found, which paragraph in the book it can be found, even what words define that gene.

“The problem is between the two gene markers that carry this gene there is also a gene for cotton fiber length. We could solve the problem with RKN fairly simply, but we could possibly create a cotton plant that produces unmarketable fibers.

“So, there is still plenty of work to be done to put the genome to work for cotton growers, but we are about to get the genome in the game,” Jones says.


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