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Agrilife research benefits cotton growers

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Amarillo, TX - Scientists at Texas A&M are working to improve the yield and viability of the Texas cotton crop through genetic engineering - and that has huge implications for the panhandle.

Cotton is big business in Texas - Texas accounts for a fourth of the entire U.S. crop.

But as yields dropped as a result of last year's drought, one group of Texas researchers hopes to use the power of genetics to maintain our status as the king of cotton.

Monoculture in modern farming has reduced genetic diversity in our crops - and that makes for a weaker yield more susceptible to drought and disease.  Agricultural history points to the Irish Potato Famine as an example of the worst-case consequence of genetic homogeny.  A recent industry report indicates domestic cotton has about ten percent of the genetic variation of its wild counterparts.

Now a team of AgriLife scientists is trying to strengthen our current cotton strains through a process called "chromosome substitution," as Dr. David Stelly, the researcher leading the project explains,

"There can be lots of good genes, but basically all of them are flanked by undesirable genes, and so we can break up the 'linkages,' we call them, between the good and the bad genes by genetic recombination. The goal is to bring these genes in and separate the good and the bad - keep the wheat and get rid of the chaff, so to speak, in a genetic sense - so we want to keep the good genes and recombine or get rid of the bad genes."

And the benefit of research such as this is not limited to just sheer yield - creating crops that need less water or nutrients has far-reaching effects - especially in an arid region like the Texas Panhandle.

If you'd like to read more about Dr. Stelly's research, follow the links attached to this story.

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