The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture has released three cotton germplasm lines for use by other public and private cotton breeding programs.

Fred Bourland, cotton breeder and director of the division's Northeast Research and Extension Center at Keiser, said germplasm refers to the genetic makeup of a plant. "Germplasm lines are the building blocks of varieties," he said. "If we can share these building blocks, we can build improved varieties."

The germplasm lines -- Arkot 0305, Arkot 306 and Arkot 0316 -- have high yields and improved fiber quality, Bourland said.

Bourland said improvements in yield in these lines have been accompanied by increased fiber density -- the number of fibers per unit area of seed coat. "Improved yield associated with higher fiber density should provide better crop consistency in the face of climate variability," he said.

The three breeding lines are considered short-season, early maturing genotypes, Bourland said. They are resistant to common cotton diseases, including bacterial blight, fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt.

They also show at least moderate resistance to tarnished plant bug, Bourland said.

Bourland said public breeders have access to most of the material in the Division of Agriculture breeding program before it is released because advanced germplasm lines are submitted to the Regional Breeders Testing Network.

"All public cotton breeders participate in the program," Bourland said, "and can use any material put into it."

Bourland said genetically modified commercial varieties dominate the cotton industry, leaving little demand for conventional varieties. But the traits developed in conventional public breeding programs create genetic diversity that is useful to the commercial breeding programs.

Bourland said he is developing novel approaches to improve cotton traits like fiber density. Once released as germplasm, the genetic material may be used by commercial and public to develop varieties with growth characteristics that benefit Arkansas growers.

"I'm breeding things that are specifically adapted for Arkansas," Bourland said. "Commercial breeders do not necessarily do that. But the material we develop here adds traits that favor Arkansas growing conditions to the germplasm pool.

"Our industry benefits from the broader variety of genetic material that comes out of public breeding programs," he said.

Public programs are also the breeding grounds for younger breeders, some of whom go into commercial breeding, Bourland said. Both Monsanto and Dow have hired former students of his as plant breeders.

Inquiries regarding commercial use should be directed to Don Dombek, director of the Arkansas Crop Variety Improvement Program, 1091 W. Cassatt Rd., Fayetteville, Ark. 72704, or contact Dombek by phone at 479-575-6884.

Small quantities of Arkot 0305, Arkot 0306, and Arkot 0316 seed may be obtained for breeding purposes from Bourland. Contact him at P.O. Box 48, Northeast Research and Extension Center, Keiser, Ark. 72351. Contact Bourland by phone at 870-526-2199.