Scientists Crack Genetic Code Determining Leaf Shape in Cotton; Discovery Opens Door to Producing Cotton Varieties Ideally Suited for Agriculture

Researchers know that the variation in leaf shapes can mean big differences in a farmer's bottom line. Now, a new discovery gives plant breeders key genetic information they need to develop crop varieties that make the most of these leaf-shape differences. In a paper published online on Dec. 20, 2016 in PNAS, NC State researchers and colleagues from the Danforth Plant Science Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Cotton Incorporated describe how they used genomic and molecular tools to find the location of the DNA sequence that determines major leaf shapes in upland cotton. The article is titled “Modifications to a LATE MERISTEM IDENTITY-1 Gene Are Responsible for the Major Leaf Shapes of Upland Cotton.” The researchers also describe how they manipulated the genetic code to alter the shape of a cotton plant's leaves in potentially beneficial ways. This discovery represents a significant step toward developing cotton varieties that produce higher yields at less cost to the farmers, said Dr. Vasu Kuraparthy, an Associate Professor with NC State's Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and the project's principal investigator. Scientists have recognized that cotton plants with leaves that have five deep lobes, like the leaves of the okra plant, offer advantages to farmers over what researchers refer to as "normal" leaves. Dr. Ryan Andres, a postdoctoral researcher who worked in Dr. Kuraparthy's lab while he was a graduate student, said the so-called "okra" leaf cottons are less susceptible to boll rot than the stably yielding "normal" leaf cotton varieties. The okra leaves also allow a spray to be more evenly dispersed across a plant and are associated with higher rates of flowering and earlier rates of maturity in cotton, Dr. Andres added.
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