As the first class of Cotton Incorporated Fellows nears completion of studies and research efforts, the cotton industry gains more than a picker sack full of information that will increase production efficiency from field through fabric manufacture.

The industry also benefits from a few more well educated, committed scientists who will continue to develop new varieties, new technology and new insights into a crop that has been a mainstay for Sunbelt agriculture for generations.

Cotton Incorporated, with headquarters in Carey, N. C., initiated the program some four years ago as a means to identify and recruit talented young scientists into the cotton industry.

Roy Cantrell, vice president of Cotton Incorporated's agricultural research division, said the quest sought “outstanding pre-doctoral and post-doctoral students as part of an expanded initiative on cotton breeding and genetics.

“Research areas encompass cotton population development and improvement, enhanced evaluation of cotton breeding material, and expanding DNA marker development and application,” he said.

Cotton Incorporated looks for strong academic backgrounds in plant breeding, plant genetics, agronomy or related disciplines. “Fellows will be at the core of expanded cooperative research projects ongoing at public institutions as part of this cotton breeding initiative. 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.”

The first class of CI Fellows toured cotton research projects in the Southeast recently as part of the Cotton Breeder's Tour. They took time to talk about their research with Farm Press staff.

Bill Hendrix, a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas, is working on drought tolerance. “I'm trying to identify genes for cotton breeders (that will help improve drought tolerance in commercial cotton varieties),” he said.

Hendricks said he's almost through with his research. “I have just a few things left to do and hope to present a paper at Beltwide.”

He plans to stay in the cotton industry after graduation. “I'm looking at both academia and industry,” he said. “I'll keep my options open. I want to work on the next generation of transgenic cotton.”

Brian Gardunia, a Ph.D. candidate at Texas A&M, is looking at interspecific populations of two types of cotton (mustelinum and tomentosum), trying to find “the best way to breed with these materials. I'm looking at various agronomic traits and hope to expand the genetic base.”

He's completed three years of research.

Polly Longenberger, another Texas A&M Ph.D. candidate, is screening cotton lines for drought tolerance. “We're screening in the field and trying to differentiate types with drought tolerance. “I'm hopeful,” she said. “I have a lot of data from this summer.”

James Frelichowski is doing post-doctoral work with USDA-ARS in Shafter, Calif., looking at genetic markers to “get a better understanding of genetic traits. We want to use markers to look at collected and uncollected wild cotton and see if we can incorporate them into breeding programs.”

Michael Palmer, doctoral candidate at Clemson University in South Carolina, is working on a similar project, “using DNA sequencing of the cotton genome.”

Palmer hopes to “improve marker-assisted breeding. For now, we're working on the process,” he said.

Identifying markers makes it “easier to locate (specific) genes in cotton, like the Bt gene. I hope to be through with the project by next year,” he said.

Steve Hoffman, Texas A&M Ph.D. candidate, is evaluating “interspecific crosses of upland and Egyptian cottons, looking for improved quality characteristics. I want to find the genes that make fibers dense and improves quality,” he said. “The goal is to combine the best characteristics of upland with the best traits of Egyptian cotton.”

He said yield and fiber quality are not the result of one gene but a set of them. He's looking for “the quantitative trait loci,” where the specific genes are located.

Carol Mason, Texas Tech University in Lubbock, begins her Ph.D. program and CI fellowship in January, and will evaluate cotton varieties from field selections all the way through the spinning process, comparing High Volume Instrumentation (HVI) to the Advanced Fiber Information System (AFIS).

“I want to determine if I can get an advantage from the AFIS,” she said.

She expects to. “I get several measurements from AFIS that I don't get from HVI. AFIS provides length distribution as well as length. It also gives short fiber content, a strong advantage not available with HVI.”

Her initial crop “is in the ground and I'll make selections this fall,” she said.

She said the CI Fellowship program offers her an opportunity to continue her studies in cotton. “I'm excited about it,” she said.

Palmer also praised the Cotton Incorporated program.

“I never would have considered a career in cotton without the CI Fellows program,” he said. “This gives me an opportunity to go back to school and also allows me to attend industry functions such as the Beltwide Cotton Conferences and the Breeders Tour. The program opened a lot of doors.”

Palmer hopes to stay in the cotton industry after completing his degree. “I'll see what opportunities are available in academia and industry,” he said.

Five fellows have already graduated from the program: Brooks Blanche, Chris Braden, Joe Johnson, Doug Hinchliffe and Ed Lubbers were among the first CI Fellows.

Lorenzo Aleman, a Ph.D. candidate at Texas Tech, will begin his fellowship in January.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com