The highly polarized cotton fiber cell that emerges from the seed coat surface is the foundation of a multi-billion-dollar international industry. Because important traits such as fiber diameter, length, and strength are defined by the growth of individual cells, it is important to understand how these traits are determined in order to generate higher value crops. Cotton fibers grow for weeks on seeds in the developing ovary, and upon maturity, the cotton boll opens to reveal dried inch-long fibers ready for harvest. The outer fiber cell wall defines the shape and material properties of the fibers. At present the ability to predict and control fiber traits is limited by the lack of understanding regarding the primary controls governing the rate, duration, and patterns of cell growth. The goal of this project is to build a knowledge base that will enable scientists to develop new strategies for enhanced cotton fiber traits. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, the project will provide detailed developmental analyses of the gene expression patterns, protein complexes, and cell wall features that program cotton fiber traits. It is expected that this study will reveal gene regulatory networks that control developmental transitions and the protein complexes and cell wall features that directly affect cell growth. The project will help train the next generation of biologists and will help high school teachers create learning modules that can be used to expose students to plant biology in a way that is educational, fun, and interesting.

A grand challenge in biology is to understand the connections between genotype and phenotype. This project will take an innovative systems biology and biomechanical modeling approach to gain mechanistic insight into the control of important cotton fiber traits. This global textile economy is based solely on the growth and morphogenesis of individual fiber cells that emerge from the developing seed coat. Numerous advances in our understanding of cell morphogenesis are revealing the basic mechanisms by which cytoskeletal and cell wall systems are coordinated to specify growth patterns. Therefore, it is possible to define relationships between genotype and phenotype and genetically program fiber cells and specific traits. The long-term goal of this project is to generate a knowledge base and computational models of fiber growth control that will broadly enable the genetic programming of fibers with improved traits using a systems biology approach that is anchored to the reproducible developmental timeline of cotton fiber development. By using developmental time and key morphological transitions as a unifying variable among the datasets, it will be possible to associate the dynamics of mRNA, proteins, protein complexes, and cell wall composition with fiber phenotypes that determine the final length and morphology of the cell. All datasets will be publicly available through publications and access at long-term repositories.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)
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Diane Okamuro
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Purdue University
West Lafayette
United States
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