Cotton’s global genetic resources


A multinational collaborative effort among cotton scientists produced a report on the status of the global cotton genetic resources. According to the report, cotton production relies primarily on two species, with 48 other species catalogued in the various seed collections that have largely been poorly characterized and under-utilized in crop improvement efforts.
Based on the findings of this report, there are four wild species not conserved or maintained within any of the eight collections. The report also documents that the majority of a wild species genome and two other wild species are represented by fewer than accessions. The wild species that are not conserved, or are underrepresented, are threatened by extinction. These species, along with the genes and traits they house, may be lost if immediate action is not taken to collect and preserve them.
The report was initiated in 2008 at the International Cotton Genome Initiative Research Conference in Anyang, China, where cotton scientists initiated a dialogue concerning global cotton genetic resources. Representing the status of cotton genetic resources preserved in Australia, Brazil, China, France, India, Russia, United States, and Uzbekistan, the report was published in the July/August 2010 edition of Crop Science, published by the Crop Science Society of America.
The report was co-authored by B. Todd Campbell and Sukumar Sada of USDA-ARS, with contributions from twenty other scientists from the represented countries.
The seed collections established by these countries are extensive, dispersed globally across five continents. They are divided into three gene pools, including five species in the primary gene pool, twenty species in the secondary gene pool, and twenty-five species in the tertiary gene pool.
Seed collections are reservoirs of genes necessary to protect present and future generations of humankind from emerging crop diseases and vulnerabilities. Long-term preservation of the genetic resources of globally important crops, such as cultivated cotton, serves as a long-term genetic insurance policy.
These preserved genetic resources provide key repositories of genes and traits used by plant breeders to overcome current and future crop diseases and vulnerabilities, challenges associated with a changing climate, and the ability to develop new and novel end-use products. They also provide an important inventory of genetic resources to meet the natural fiber demands of growing populations.
As the single most important fiber crop in the world, coordinated efforts to collect and maintain cotton genetic resources have occurred over the last century, but this report represents the first effort to document the status of these collections and address global concerns on the diversity and resilience of the cotton genome.
The report documents both the challenges and opportunities faced by cotton collections in germplasm acquisition, conservation and regeneration, characterization, and database development. Although grand challenges such as native habitat loss, political and legal impediments, and funding constraints create significant difficulty for maintaining interconnected and stable global collections, the initiation of multinational and collaborative efforts, such as the one described in this report, create opportunities to conserve and expand the world’s cotton genetic resources.
Ultimately, this report serves as a starting point for building strong, multinational collaborations for conservation and characterization of cotton collections at different germplasm centers in the world. Multinational communication and collaboration are essential to protect, secure, and evaluate the global cotton germplasm resources. Without global, collaborative efforts the most rare and unique cotton germplasm resources are vulnerable to extinction.
For more information on the International Cotton Genome Initiative, visit

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