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Monsanto's gift to help scientists map the cotton genome
Apr '09
Anna Blenda
Anna Blenda
Clemson University will share in the bounty of cotton genetic information donated by the Monsanto Co. The St. Louis-based biotechnology leader announced a gift of 5,000 molecular markers to Texas AgriLife Research of the Texas A&M System. The gift will help scientists map the cotton genome, a pathway to new products for consumers and profits for the industry.

Cotton Marker Database (CMD) Web site, hosted by the Clemson University Genomics Institute — CUGI for short — will receive copies of the genetic information given to Texas AgriLife Research. The Clemson-maintained database, supported by the trade organization Cotton Inc., offers centralized access to all publicly available major types of cotton molecular markers. CUGI provides Web hosting, access and data storage for the Cotton Marker Database project.

“The Cotton Marker Database project has been funded by Cotton Inc. through Clemson University since 2004,”said Anna Blenda, leader of the Cotton Marker Database project and research assistant professor in the genetics and biochemistry department. “Through those years Clemson received $320,000 of grant money from Cotton Inc. for the development and maintenance of the CMD. According to a 2008 survey, CMD was the most-used cotton database among cotton researchers surveyed. Release of the Monsanto cotton marker data to the public sources, including the Clemson-based Cotton Marker Database, will have tremendous benefit for the research community.”

Another genetic research resource is the federal Cotton Genome Database (CottonDB). Started in 1995, CottonDB is located at College Station, Texas, and directed by Richard Percy of the USDA Agricultural Research Service. CottonDB contains genomic, genetic and taxonomic information for cotton. The database helps cotton researchers access large amounts of cotton biological and descriptive data. The Monsanto gift opens new doors to scientific discoveries that ultimately will move from laboratory bench to crop rows.

“Farmers are looking for ways to increase productivity on their farms to meet growing demand for food, feed and fiber,” said John Purcell, global cotton technology lead for Monsanto. “Last year, we announced a challenge to double production by 2030, using 2000 as the base. We think that's possible through our research and by working with others in the industry through efforts like this. This donation of molecular markers is an active component of realizing vision and will help us achieve that goal.”

A molecular marker is “a way to tag genetic traits for fast access the next time, much like you could mark a useful tip in a cookbook and highlight it,” Purcell said. “Molecular markers work the same way. Monsanto researchers have found areas of the cotton genome that, for example, have disease-resistance or high yield potential. Adding markers helps researchers easily find these and other specific traits where and when they need them. Markers let us screen a lot of cotton varieties in the lab before even going to the field. This saves a lot of time and money.”

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