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Texas Tech Researchers Develop Cotton Maturity Reference Method

By designing a series of laboratory tests that pinpoint specific cotton fiber structure qualities, researchers at the International Textile Center (ITC) at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, have developed a maturity reference method to evaluate those fibers. The standardized reference method may enable the development of cotton varieties with improved fiber maturity and germplasm, and could provide DNA markers that may help breeders incorporate those genes into new varieties.

For the last five years, ITC biotechnologists have attempted to identify the genes that affect cotton maturity, even though standardized maturity benchmarks have not been available. Eric Hequet, Ph.D., associate director, and Noureddine Abidi, Ph.D., head of finishes/chemical research, have evaluated 1.6 million cotton fibers over the last four years using infrared microscopy and image analysis of fiber cross sections, resulting in a method that accurately determines fiber maturity.

"Its a long and complicated process," Abidi said. "But now we expect to identify the most promising candidates provided by breeders and biotechnologists later this year."

According to Hequet, fiber maturity is directly related to fiber strength, and stronger fibers are damaged less during mechanical processing such as harvesting and ginning. "Cotton fibers typically are measured using the micronaire method, which measures fiber fineness and maturity together. Micronaire readings dont tell us whether the fiber is coarse and immature, or fine and mature," he explained. Hequet said the ideal fiber is both fine and mature because it ensures the production of strong yarn and high-quality apparel.

"The ring-spun cotton yarns suitable for making fine, lightweight cotton textiles require cotton fibers that are long, strong and fine," said M. Dean Ethridge, Ph.D., managing director. "However, it is a given that the cotton fibers must be adequately matured. "

September/October 2006