Creativity will be the most limiting factor in developing new transgenic varieties as the U.S. cotton industry looks to new generations of products to reduce production costs, improve quality factors and increase yields.
"The sky is the limit," says Norma Trolinder, owner of Genes Plus, a biotechnology company in Quanah, Texas. Trolinder outlined her vision of the future for cotton technology recently at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Anaheim, Calif.
On the ground, the industry already has Roundup Ready, Liberty Link, Buctril and Bt cotton varieties. She said these products are either already used widely or soon will be.
On the horizon are products that will be available soon. She said scientists are looking at transgenics with enhanced insect and pathogen resistance as well as resistance or tolerance to various environmental stresses.
"We see some promise for temperature and drought stress resistance," she said. "We're also seeing improvements in yield and quality characteristics. She noted gossypol-free seed and varieties with increased fiber length and thicker cell walls as possibilities for the near future.
Over the horizon lie products that are less certain but hold promise. Trolinder said studies to determine if scientists can manipulate the plant to keep boll temperatures higher during cold periods could result in less temperature-sensitive varieties. "Researchers also are trying to find resistance to water stress," she said.
Blue sky thinking, she said, is unlimited and may pave the way for as-yet-unheard-of technology.
"Can we transfer the legume-fixation pathways into cotton?" she asked. "We need to look at it.."
Water-stress resistance, she said, also should be possible.