Cotton breeding is getting an infusion of new blood through Cotton Incorporated's Fellows Program. As part of the Cotton Incorporated Cotton Breeding Initiative, the program is designed to cure the chronic shortage of scientists in the discipline of cotton breeding and genetics.

The first crop of Cotton Incorporated Fellows includes three Ph.D students and one post-doctoral student. They will be at the core of the expanded cooperative research projects between the Cotton Incorporated breeding initiative and public universities.

“These students have strong and impressive backgrounds in plant breeding, plant genetics, plant molecular biology, agronomy or related disciplines,” says Roy G. Cantrell, Cotton Incorporated vice president of agricultural research.

Brian Gardunia will begin his Ph.D studies at Texas A&M University in August. He'll be working with David Stelly on transferring fiber quality and other important traits from related cotton species. Gardunia has B.S. and M.S. degrees in plant genetics from Brigham Young University. He developed microsatellite DNA markers for an Andean psuedograin (Chenopodium quinoa) related to amaranth and beets. He also helped prepare mapping populations and some basic quinoa genetic studies.

Michael Palmer is pursuing a Ph. D. in genetics at Clemson University. He holds a B.S. degree in biology from Southern Wesleyan University and also has experience as a technician in the Clemson University Genomics Institute. He has worked on plant genome projects such as rice, barley, tomato and cotton. Work at CUGI has centered on high-throughput DNA sequencing, construction of shotgun libraries and optimization of protocols to increase efficiency. In his Ph.D. studies, Palmer will be working with Jeff Tomkins on development and application of large-scale DNA marker systems in cotton.

Chris Braden is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in plant breeding at Texas A&M University. He grew up on a 2,000-acre cotton farm in St. Lawrence, Texas. He began his academic career at South Plains in Levelland, Texas, on a livestock judging scholarship. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Texas Tech. He also worked as a research assistant on the research farm at Texas Tech and as an agronomic services intern with Delta and Pine Land. He completed his M.S. in plant breeding under C. Wayne Smith at Texas A&M in 1998. He's working toward a Ph.D. on cotton genetic diversity and genetic improvement of fiber quality.

Joseph Johnson is the first post-doctoral student in the Cotton Incorporated Fellows Program. Joseph has an exemplary academic and research background in plant breeding. He received a B.S. in agronomy and an M.S. in plant breeding and genetics from the University of Arkansas. He validated the COTMAN system for cotton in his M.S. thesis. He completed a Ph.D. at Mississippi State University in 2000, with a breeding project on root knot nematode resistance in sweet corn. He's been working with Monsanto as a project leader for cotton trait introgression. In his capacity as a Cotton Incorporated Fellow, Johnson has begun work with Fred Bourland at the University of Arkansas, developing cotton breeding techniques and germplasm to enhance cotton yield and quality.

The Cotton Incorporated vice president of agricultural research says it's vital that “new blood” be infused into cotton breeding programs.

Because of the advent of new breeding technology, many public universities have redirected programs to molecular biology and genetic engineering, “which ignores the strong, complementary role these areas must have with conventional cotton breeding programs.” Also, research dollars at state universities are shrinking because of budget pressures.

“The most severe limitation to sustained genetic improvements in cotton is the capacity of cotton breeders and the breeding sector to incorporate all the necessary future technological innovations into cotton cultivars into an affordable bag of seed for producers,” Cantrell says.

“This requires training and developing a new generation of cotton breeders that are now not currently in the educational pipeline,” Cantrell says.