Making a cotton plant easier to harvest, more profitable

A cotton flower is being used to transport a desired gene to a new cotton plant.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 10:41

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- A field full of planted cotton, all ready to harvest at the exact same time, exactly when wanted: It's a farmer's dream and could soon become a reality.

A researcher from the University of North Texas has discovered a way to get cotton plants to bloom in mass at the time of year that's most beneficial to the farmer. Brian Ayre, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is tapping into the genetic pathways of plants to make that change.

"We have a virus that we modify to carry the gene of interest," said Ayre. "When we introduce it to the plant, the new gene sends a signal to tell the plant to flower when we want it to instead of when it wants."

The change is permanent, but the virus is not. So future generations of this treated cotton is virus-free, but still flowers when wanted. That gives the desired benefit while allowing the next generation of plants to not be genetically modified.

Now that Ayre has successfully made this process work in cotton, he's working to also help evolve sugarcane, sorghum and cassava, which are important staples in many developing countries.

"We've done the research and know this works. Now, we want our experiments to benefit farmers as soon as possible," said Ayre.

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