Agricultural research at Cotton Incorporated strives to improve profitability of cotton through creation and use of knowledge in agricultural sciences. Seeking to support and develop the next generation of cotton breeders and geneticists, Cotton Inc. launched the Cotton Incorporated Fellowship (CIF) program in 2002.

Pre- and post-doctoral CIF positions are at the core of expanded cooperative cotton research projects initiated at public institutions in the Cotton Belt.

“This is an excellent opportunity for training in plant breeding and genetics in cutting-edge basic and applied research to improve the productivity and profitability of cotton,” says Dr. Roy G. Cantrell, vice president for agricultural research at Cotton Inc. and coordinator of the CIF program. “Stipends, tuition and a benefits package are provided to the CIFs.”

Since the program's inaugural year, 10 graduate doctoral students in plant breeding genetics (four have graduated since 2002) and five post-doctoral researchers — scientists who have just completed their Ph.D.s — have been part of the program.

Institutions that participate in the CIF program include Clemson University, Mississippi State University, Louisiana State University, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, New Mexico State University, University of Arkansas, University of Georgia and United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service labs in California and Texas.

Research areas for CIFs encompass cotton population development and improvement, enhanced evaluation of cotton breeding material and expanding DNA marker development and application.

“One of the first CIF students, Chris Braden, working at Texas A&M, developed very useful tools for analyzing short fiber content in cotton breeding samples,” Cantrell says. “This is timely since breeders are interested in genetic improvement for this fiber quality trait, which is very difficult to measure in a breeding program on small samples.”

Other program research highlights include:

  • Brooks Blanch, a former CIF at LSU, developed and published an interesting methodology for breeders to use in optimizing testing/selection programs. It scientifically evaluates potential testing environments for yield and quality to maximize efficiency and genetic gain.

  • Bill Hendrix, a former CIF at the University of Arkansas, developed valuable genetic tools for looking at gene expression in cotton roots under severe drought stress. This paves the way for identifying the genes most important in improving the drought tolerance of cotton.

  • Polly Longenberger, a CIF at Texas A&M, has exciting research in Lubbock and College Station on the use of a rapid assay for breeders to use in selecting for drought tolerance.

Cantrell points out that CIF research is nearly always published in recognized scientific journals and presented at the Beltwide Cotton conferences.

“More importantly, the research often leads to improved germplasm (breeding lines), which are publicly released for companies to use in developing new cotton varieties,” he says.

All CIFs work on Cotton Inc. research projects under a cooperative research agreement between Cotton Inc. and the university.

“This governs any intellectual property developed in the research project,” Cantrell says. “IP traditionally is retained by the university with licensing rights to Cotton Inc. if there is any commercial value.”

Cantrell says some former CIFs are now employed as a cotton geneticist with USDA-ARS at the Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, as the assistant curator of the cotton germplasm collection at USDA-ARS in College Station, as a cotton breeder with Bayer Crop Science, as a cotton breeder at the University of Georgia and as a molecular cotton breeder with Delta and Pineland Seed Company.

For more information about the CIF program, visit www.cottoninc.com/Biotechnology/Fellowships.