I finally managed to get a glimpse of the big picture when it comes to fiber research. It may seem fairly obvious now but for some reason, I was too immersed in the A’s, G’s, T’s and C’s of the genetic code and hunting for their patterns, that I forgot to ask the big question: Why?
Answer: Better cotton and more of it.
In a talk by one of my colleague’s, he laid out a bit of this for me by describing two of the primary cotton species that are most harvested. The first is called Gossypium hirsutum, which is the sometimes called Texas Maker 1 (TM-1) or Upland. It’s name comes from “hirsute” meaning “hairy”. This cotton species has a high yield, a definite advantage, but as the name suggests the fibers are “hairy”, not as long and strong as other species. Another variety is Gossypium barbadense, or Pima, which is commonly known as “Egyptian Cotton”. Its fibers are longer and stronger resulting a higher quality fabric. However, there is substantially less yield from this variety.
Now, in comes research in the study of the cotton genome. The goal is to understand the biological mechanisms and the underlying genetic code that produces the differences in the varieties of cotton. If we can identify significantly differentially expressed genes in varieties of cotton at different stages of development, and use this information to discover active biological pathways, we may be on our way to understanding the system of biological development in cotton. Then, knowing that, we will work to produce a cotton plant with the yield of Upland and the quality of Pima.