Research focus on cotton fibre development

28 April, 2004

___Research aimed at finding genes responsible for fibre growth in cotton plants is one of several key biotechnology projects being undertaken by CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra._

Speaking on the weekly CSD Web on Wednesday, Dr Llewellyn said scientists had very little understanding about the basic molecular biology of how fibres develop on seeds.

The long-term objective of the research team, headed by Dr Llewellyn, is to manipulate fibre growth and development to improve the quality characteristics of cotton varieties.

He said the team was working on basic research into various aspects of the cotton plant that may in the longer-term lead to new products from new genetically modified cotton varieties.

“In the past we’ve been able to isolate, characterise and manipulate single genes, but a lot of biological processes really don’t involve single genes, they involve large sets of genes that work together to produce a particular characteristic in a plant.

“So some of the new genomic technologies really allow us to look at many different genes at a single time. One of the more powerful techniques is using microarrays. These are basically gene sequences which are spotted onto a glass slide, which allow us to follow the expression of thousands of different genes under different conditions,” Dr Llewellyn said.

He said that using microarrays, up to 10,000 different cotton gene sequences can be examined simultaneously to determine their role in a particular biological process.

“We’ve already identified some that are involved in the early processes of cotton fibre initiation and this has led us to find a couple of candidate genes which we can now start to look at in more detail to see what their role is in fibre development, and that’s part of a CRDC funded project as well as a project funded by CSD.”

He said the CSIRO research group under Dr Allan Green was also working on seed oil modification, trying to improve the nutritional qualities of the oils that are produced in cottonseed.

“In general, the oil that’s in the cottonseed is really a by-product of cotton fibre production, but using molecular technologies now we can start to manipulate the types of oils that are found in the seed to try and improve the value of the cottonseed either for nutritional or industrial purposes.

“The first field trial work on cottonseeds with improved nutritional qualities is being conducted this year, and will hopefully result in expanded markets for cottonseed oil as a co-product of cotton fibre production.”

Dr Llewellyn said CSIRO worked closely with the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator to demonstrate that new genes can be safely exposed to the environment in field trials.

“We’ve worked very closely with the OGTR to try and formulate the safest and the most open and transparent system of regulation anywhere in the world for transgenic organisms,” Dr Llewellyn said.

Further information: Dr Danny Llewellyn 02 6246 5470
_or_* Robert Eveleigh, John Marshall, or Craig McDonald*