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Monday, 03 December 2018 12:30

Genetic improvement of two cotton species would increase the crop profitability and sustainability of the cotton sector, study says

Researcher Elena Pelaez during thesis defense Researcher Elena Pelaez during thesis defense

The study concludes that the genetic improvement of new cotton varieties—specifically of the Upland and Pima species—adapted to the European culture conditions would mean an increase of the crop productivity, as well as the improvement of the fiber price and sustainability in the cotton sector. This research has been developed within the framework of the ceiA3’s Doctores en Empresa Programme.

This result derives from the PhD thesis with an industrial mention carried out by Elena Pelaez Anderica, researcher and agronomist of the University of Cordoba. 'Establishment of the genetic bases for the improvement of cotton in the Guadalquivir Valley' was developed within the framework of the Doctores en Empresa Programme, managed from ceiA3 with funding from Banco Santander through Santander Universities.

According to data collected in the thesis, cotton (Gossypium) is currently the main source of fiber of natural origin worldwide. It represents one of the crops that most enriches the rural population, with a meticulous attention required in all the fiber industrial process: production, ginning, spinning, weaving, confection and distribution.

The only two cotton producing countries within the European Union are Greece and Spain with 79% and 21% of cultivated area respectively. Almost 100% of the cotton in Spain is grown in Andalusia: mainly in Seville and Cadiz, covering an area of ​​68,000 hectares, which most of it are irrigated lands.

As the researcher Elena Pelaez explained, the cotton varietal improvement is presented as one of the much talked-about solutions due to the climatic peculiarities and the rigorous management in this area. 'Therefore, there is a need to expand the catalog of European varieties by seeking greater sustainability and fiber quality, but also a better adaptation of the cycles and the vigor of future varieties,’ told Pelaez.

According to collected data, 95% of the world cotton production corresponds to the species Gossypium hirsutum (Upland) and secondly to the species G. barbadense (Pima). The first one offers large productions and good adaptability to the growing conditions and an acceptable quality in the cotton fiber—called the ‘long’ category. The second one is highly demanded by the high quality of its Extra Long Staple (ELS) Cotton, although its production is usually lower.

This doctoral thesis focused on the evaluation of genetic diversity, agronomic potential or characteristics of interest for Andalusia of different varieties of cotton. For this, morphological, productive and fiber quality data (phenotypic data) of the different varieties were taken to make comparative statistics. These field data were also combined with the molecular information obtained from laboratory tests with molecular markers to support the improvement of European cotton, both new varieties Upland (from the cotton species Gossypium hirsutum) and better adapted ELS hybrids (extralong fiber from Upland x Pima).

Likewise, the initial work of researching the available genetic diversity and the potential of the different varieties also allowed the beginning of a plant breeding program between the most interesting Upland varieties and the Pima varieties with the highest fiber quality. This could make obtain Extra Long fiber hybrids better adapted to the cultivation cycle of Andalusia, regarding hybrids marketed today. This requires hybrids with less vigor, that is, with a moderate growth rate faced with excess of fertilizer, water or temperature, as well as with shorter growing cycles—around a maximum of 5 months between sowing and harvesting.



To carry out this research, Pelaez proceeded to the selection and characterization of a collection of 48 commercial and experimental varieties of cotton (especially Upland and Pima) with potential to be enhanced.

Subsequently, the DNA of each variety was extracted and analyzed with 67 microsatellite markers or Single Sequence Repeats (SSR), allowing to know the molecular differences between varieties. With this information, a study of the phylogeny could be carried out to gain further insight into the kinship relationships between varieties or if they contain genes from other cotton species.

These genetic data were combined with the field data on morphological characters, productive potential and fiber quality of each variety. This way provided a large informative database that allowed to verify the important genetic and phenotypic diversity contained in this vegetal collection—both within species and between species—and confirming the great potential of this collection of varieties to improve existing cotton varieties.



PhD thesis, industrial mention: 'Establishment of the genetic bases for the improvement of cotton in the Guadalquivir Valley'.

Author: Elena Pelaez Anderica.

Directors: Dr. Juan Gil Ligero, Department of Genetics of the University of Cordoba; Dr. Manuel Lopez Garcia, IFAPA (Las Torres-Tomeji center); and Felipe Rey Montero, company tutor (Algodonera del Sur S.A).


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