Cotton breeding researchers take giant leap
The consortium has announced an agreement with Illumina, a genomics technology company, to produce "BeadArray" panels or chips for analysis of cotton SNPs, Stelly said. Each array will include up to 70,000 public SNPs.
With an overall collection of 10,000 different cotton lines available, a researcher may only want to select 300 lines and access the most diversity, he said. By using these markers, they will be able to detect which chromosome segments of their genomes are similar or different. Such knowledge becomes a powerful tool in choosing parent, experimental and breeding goals, as well as strategies for conventional breeding.
"This will open many doors for more effective utilization of naturally occurring wild accessions of cotton and open the door to things we previously could not do feasibly as public researchers," Stelly said. "We want to be able to better use natural biology to enhance and bring genetics to breeding, so producers and other parts of the industry can optimize natural resources, yet maintain economics."
Moving higher and higher on the priority list for breeding are those traits related to natural resource sustainability, he said. Yield will always be important, but land and water conservation have become very important, too.
"Breeding is most successful when you can break down a trait to specifics and get down to relatively small numbers of genes. Otherwise, there is so much 'noise' in the system, you can't see where the important genes are. But if you can take a complex trait and simplify it, then you have more and more success. SNPs help us do this, as they are a great analytical tool for trait dissection."
Cotton is an economically important crop to the nation, and this tool will better enable breeders to develop the crop to produce more with less, thus making agriculture more sustainable, he said.
"We are all interested in scientific advancement, so having this kind of resource puts cotton in a more competitive position to utilize cutting-edge science," Stelly said.