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Technology Gift Helps
Cotton Research


In what can best be described as a gift of historic proportion, Monsanto has made the largest private donation of cotton technology to the public domain.

The donation, which includes 4,000 cotton molecular markers and associated information, will be offered to Texas AgriLife Research, a part of the Texas A&M University system.

The gift is expected to help scientists further map the cotton genome, but also has the potential to provide valuable contributions to cotton farmers and the land they farm.

“Farmers are looking for ways to increase productivity on their farms to meet growing demand for food, feed and fiber,” says John Purcell, global technology lead for Monsanto.

“Last year we announced a challenge to double production by 2030, using 2000 as the base. We think that’s possible through our research and by working with others in the industry through efforts like this.”

Expansion Of Database

Dr. Richard Percy, research leader of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service crop germplasm research unit in College Station, Texas, manages the cottonDB database, which will house the information. He says the donation greatly increases the number of markets now available to the public.

“The cotton genome is very large and complex compared to other plants that have already been mapped,” Percy says. “This donation will stimulate research and development in the cotton industry by providing powerful tools that will ultimately help cotton farmers get more out of every acre.

“This information, once full publication is made in the coming months, will benefit all breeding programs that use the database.”

Scientists often use genetic markers as a flag to identify the specific location of a genetic trait on a chromosome. By flagging the desired trait, plant breeders can breed plants more efficiently and more accurately.

To provide full utility of the marker set, a detailed academic article has been submitted to the Journal of Cotton Science. Publication is expected this summer.

Because AgriLife Research is a member of the Texas A&M System, teaching faculty and students will benefit, as well.

Wayne Smith, professor and associate head of the Department of Soil and Crop Services, said, “Cotton breeders and their students will mine the Monsanto SSR markers to determine their association with traits of value to the cotton industry. Access to these markers will enhance our graduate student training by providing hands-on experience with cutting edge molecular tools.”

Monsanto’s scientists screened the company’s markers against other public databases to eliminate any duplication. This was done so only markers which are truly one-of-a kind get added to the database. Monsanto and AgriLife Research will submit the markers to globally accessible databases, specifically CottonDB and the Cotton Marker Database.

Anticipation In Texas

Not surprisingly, reaction from Texas cotton industry leaders was predictably positive concerning the Monsanto donation.

Jane Dever, Texas AgriLife cotton breeder in Lubbock, says this gift should disspell any doubts about the cooperation between the public and private sectors when it comes to the sharing of cotton germplasm.

“This is absolutely exciting,” she says. “We were beginning to worry about the genetic diversity in cotton breeding. But this gives us a lot of hope in improving genetics for cotton.”

Dever says this breakthrough is an example of “the new world recognizing that it’s best for basic genetics when diversity doesn’t decline but continues to increase.”

“What I mean by that is that the marker technology is improving the efficiency and effectiveness of traditional plant breeding.”

Another industry leader echoed Dever’s assessment. Roy Cantrell, former director of research at Cotton Incorporated and now the cotton molecular technology lead for Monsanto, believes the marker donation to Texas AgriLife will reap many benefits.

“If you’re committed to cotton, you’re committed to Texas,” he says. “The level of research conducted at Texas AgriLife and Texas Tech is outstanding. The relationship has a focus in Texas but it will ultimately help the entire Cotton Belt.”

Monsanto contributed information for this article.

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