Growing, processing and manufacturing cotton is a major global industry. In the United States, more than 200,000 domestic jobs are related to cotton production and processing, with an aggregate influence of about $35 billion on the annual U.S. gross domestic product. The fibers that have woven themselves into so many lives, however, are seen by bioenergy researchers as merely dozens of cellulose coils. These coils are of interest because cellulose is a target biomass for making biofuels.
This is one of the reasons that the DOE Joint Genome Institute sequenced the simplest cotton genome (Gossypiumraimondii) under the Community Sequencing Program. In the December 20, 2012 edition of Nature, a high-quality draft assembly of the genome was published by an international consortium of researchers from 31 institutions, including the DOE JGI. The team also did a comparative analysis of cotton genomes, which allowed them to trace the plant’s evolution from the wild varieties to the domesticated species now associated with textile production.
“This cotton data will help accelerate the study of gene function, particularly cellulose biosynthesis, the understanding of which is fundamental to improved biofuels production,” said Jeremy Schmutz, head of the DOE JGI Plant Program and a faculty investigator at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. “In addition, the unique structure of the cotton fiber makes it useful in bioremediation, and accelerated cotton crop improvement also promises to improve water efficiency and reduce pesticide use.”