$2M awarded for Upland cotton genome sequence

Research will facilitate a new era of DNA-informed breeding and biology for cotton.

HudsonAlpha faculty investigator Jane Grimwood, Ph.D., will share a $2.4 million grant with four other researchers to continue genomics research on Upland cotton. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the research is intended to advance the groundbreaking discovery published in the April edition of Nature Biotechnology, which explained how researchers, including Chris Saski of Clemson University, decoded the genetic makeup of Upland cotton for the first time.

“We’ve got a map, but it’s still a first draft,” said Saski. “What we’re now striving for is a reference-grade genome that has the resolution and accuracy necessary to unlock cotton’s most complex secrets.”

The team, which includes Grimwood, Saski, Z. Jeffrey Chen of the University of Texas at Austin, David Stelly of Texas A&M and Brian Scheffler of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, aims to sequence the genome of Upland cotton to a standard not yet achieved in a polyploid plant. Polyploid plants contain two pairs of chromosomes, unlike humans, which have one paired set. About 80 percent of plants are polyploid.

The HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center will produce a high-quality reference genome for tetraploid cotton, which can then be used for genomically-enabled improvements.

“We are excited to apply our experience in plant genomics to a crop which is of such major economic importance to Alabama and the rest of the Southeast,” said Grimwood. “The reference genome sequence generated as a result of this work will form the basis for accelerated breeding for important agronomic traits in tetraploid cotton.”

Upland cotton, also known as Gossypium hirsutum, is the most widely spread species of cotton in the U.S., constituting 90 percent of worldwide production. Cotton has an economic impact of more than $200 million in South Carolina and generates $500 billion worldwide. Improving Upland cotton fiber yield and quality will help clothe, feed and fuel the ever-expanding human population.