Making a cotton plant easier to harvest, more profitable
A field full of planted cotton, all bolls ready to harvest at the same time, all 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 synchronize blooms at the time of year that’s most beneficial to the producer. Brian Ayre, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is tapping into the genetic pathways of plants to make that change.
“In the laboratory, we do virus-based gene therapy for plants” said Ayre. “We modify a virus to carry the gene of interest, and 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 virus is not permanent so future generations of this treated cotton is virus-free. That gives the desired benefit while allowing the next generation of plants to not be genetically modified. New versions of the technology will similarly eliminate the virus from future generations while retaining the beneficial characteristics.
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 around the world and in many developing countries.
“We’ve done the experiments and know this works. Now, we want our research to benefit American producers and subsistence-level farmers as soon as possible,” said Ayre.