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Genetic Studies Show How Humans Shaped Modern Cotton from a Wild Plant
                                                                              ... featured at

One of the exciting opportunities stimulated by the convergence of modern genomic approaches with other areas of biology is that of resolving the enigmatic processes by which new phenotypes arise. Here we propose a multifaceted program designed to further our understanding of the complex genetic architecture that underlies form, and to elucidate biological processes involved in developmental, agronomic, and evolutionary change. Using a well-developed model system from the cotton genus (Gossypium) and new genomic resources developed during previous funding periods, we will reveal steps and complexities involved in transforming primitive trichomes to the economically important fibers of modern cotton cultivars. We propose experiments that promise insight into fundamental biological processes underlying fiber development and evolution, while providing vital resources for cotton improvement. The research involves four interrelated components:

  1. Developing and characterizing immortal introgression populations to reduce complex morphology into defined constituents amenable to functional genomic analyses
  2. Developing a novel homoeolog-specific comparative expression profiling platform using a vastly enriched EST resource
  3. Studying perturbations in genetic networks and gene expression associated with naturally occurring variation in fiber phenotypes, using the introgression lines
  4. Providing a foundation for understanding the effects of selection on genetic diversity in cotton

Our goal is to understand the genetic causes and system-wide effects that underlie phenotypic change. An additional exciting dimension to our project is that it involves allopolyploid species, permitting us to explore the possibility that polyploid formation created novel opportunities for phenotypic evolution. Because two different species were independently domesticated, the research also will provide a rare opportunity to evaluate parallelisms and convergences in the underlying genetic architecture associated with plant domestication and morphological evolution. Thus, this work has significance that extends far beyond the confines of cotton. Finally, in addition to addressing fundamental biological questions, our project will generate physical resources and tools for cotton research and improvement, including:

  1. A new public microarray platform capable of distinguishing between homoeologous loci through vastly enriched, public EST resources for cotton
  2. Immortal introgression populations that will provide access, in small units amenable to functional genomic and genetic analyses
  3. Insight into the genes and biological processes important in fiber development and agronomic improvement
  4. Information on the relationship between candidate gene diversity and cotton domestication and improvement, and a framework for future diversity analyses in cotton.

We welcome your comments and suggestions.