Monsanto Donates State-of-the-Art Marker Technology to Public Database

By R. Johnson 4/7/2009

On Friday, April 4, Monsanto announced the donation of 4,000 cotton molecular markers and associated information to Texas AgriLife Research—an agency of the Texas A&M System. Globally, this marks the largest private donation of cotton genetics information.

"The donation will be offered to the public domain through the globally accessible cotton genome databases CottonDB and the Cotton Marker Database," John Purcell, Monsanto global cotton technology lead, said. "This move will benefit research programs and breeders interested in one of world’s key crops."

Scientists often use genetic markers as a flag to identify the specific location of a genetic trait on a chromosome. By flagging the desired trait, plant breeders can breed plants more efficiently and accurately.

"Molecular markers help plant breeders tag genetic traits for quicker access the next time, much like you could mark a useful tip in a cookbook by highlighting it," Purcell said. "Monsanto researchers have found areas of the cotton genome that, for example, have disease-resistance or high-yield potential. Adding markers helps researchers easily find specific traits where and when they need them. Markers let us screen a lot of cotton varieties in the lab before even going to the field. This saves a lot of time and money."

The marker donation is not only expected to help scientists further map the cotton genome; it also has the potential to provide valuable contributions to cotton farmers.

"Four thousand is a significant contribution," Purcell said. "It brings the total to almost 10,000 markers available. So what it allows public researchers to do then is use these markers for traits of interest in their world areas. It can be higher-yielding varieties or tolerance to certain diseases—anything that might impact that cotton variety’s ability to be successful in that marketplace. The marker can help them identify germplasm which will yield better and provide value to their growers."

Monsanto scientists screened the markers against other public databases to eliminate any duplication. Richard Percy—the research leader of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service’s crop germplasm research unit in College Station, Texas—manages the CottonDB database.

"The cotton genome is very large and complex compared to other plants that have already been mapped," he said. "This donation will stimulate research and development in the cotton industry by providing powerful tools that will ultimately help cotton farmers get more out of every acre."

Because AgriLife Research is a member of the Texas A&M System, teaching faculty and students will benefit, as well.

"Texas A&M University and Texas AgriLife Research have a long and storied history of developing strong cotton research," Bill McCutchen, associate director for AgriLife Research, said. "We have numerous projects geared to increased yield, fiber quality, disease resistance and the like, so the more information our faculty has in the form of markers, the faster we can make improvements to benefit cotton farmers."

"Cotton breeders and their students will mine the Monsanto SSR [simple sequence repeats] markers to determine their association with traits of value to the cotton industry," Wayne Smith, professor and associate head of the department of Soil and Crop Sciences, said. "Access to these markers will enhance our graduate-student training by providing hands-on experience with cutting-edge molecular tools."

To increase utilization of the marker set, a detailed academic article has been submitted to the Journal of Cotton Science. It is expected to be published in the summer of 2009.