Researchers crack genetic code determining leaf shape in cotton

December 21, 2016 by Vasu Kuraparthy
Cotton leaves come in different shapes, including what researchers call the "normal" shape (left) and "okra" shape (right). Credit: North Carolina State University

Researchers know that the variation in leaf shapes can mean big differences in a farmer's bottom line. Now, a new discovery gives plant breeders key genetic information they need to develop crop varieties that make the most of these leaf-shape differences.

In a paper published Dec. 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, NC State researchers and colleagues from the Danforth Plant Science Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cotton Incorporated describe how they used genomic and molecular tools to find the location of the DNA sequence that determines major leaf shapes in upland cotton.

The researchers also describe how they manipulated the genetic code to alter the shape of a cotton plant's leaves in potentially beneficial ways.

This discovery represents a significant step toward developing cotton varieties that produce higher yields at less cost to the farmers, said Vasu Kuraparthy, an associate professor with NC State's Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and the project's principal investigator.

Scientists have recognized that cotton plants with leaves that have five deep lobes, like the leaves of the okra plant, offer advantages to farmers over what researchers refer to as "normal" leaves. Dr. Ryan Andres, a postdoctoral researcher who worked in Kuraparthy's lab while he was a graduate student, said the so-called "okra" leaf cottons are less susceptible to boll rot than the stably yielding "normal" leaf cotton varieties.

The okra leaves also allow a spray to be more evenly dispersed across a plant and are associated with higher rates of flowering and earlier rates of maturity in cotton, Andres added.

To determine if they'd found the DNA sequence that controlled major leaf shapes in cotton, researchers infected okra-leaf plants with a modified virus that silenced the target gene. That led to a temporary production of normal leaves until the plants overcame the experimental virus and reverted to okra leaf shape.

Kuraparthy and Andres said they hope that this leaf architecture leads to an ideal cultivar, or ideotype, capable of combining the advantages of the two leaf shapes.

"We were able to create our ideotype but only in a transient fashion. One day we want to able to do it in a heritable manner, and the first step in that is finding the gene and proving that this is the gene and these are the polymorphisms in the gene that cause these changes," Kuraparthy said. "This research does that."

Explore further: A small piece of DNA with a large effect on leaf shape

More information: Modifications to a LATE MERISTEM IDENTITY-1 gene are responsible for the major leaf shapes of Upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) doi: doi.org/10.1101/062612

Related Stories

A small piece of DNA with a large effect on leaf shape

November 17, 2016

Millions of years ago, some plants in the mustard family made the switch from simple leaves to complex leaves through two tiny tweaks to a single gene. One tweak to a small enhancer sequence gave the gene a new domain of ...

In pursuit of flat growth in leaves

October 4, 2016

How does a set of plant cells grow from a bump into a flat leaf that can efficiently capture sunlight? In a paper published this week in PNAS, EMBL scientists show how different types of molecules on the top and bottom of ...

New research uses novel approach to study plant mimicry

June 13, 2016

Batesian mimicry is a common evolutionary tool where unprotected species imitate harmful or poisonous species to protect themselves from predators. To date, nearly all examples of Batesian mimicry have come from studies on ...

Soybean plants with fewer leaves yield more

November 18, 2016

Using computer model simulations, scientists have predicted that modern soybean crops produce more leaves than they need to the detriment of yield—a problem made worse by rising atmospheric carbon dioxide. They tested their ...

Recommended for you

Male baboons found to engage in feticide

January 18, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers from several institutions in the U.S., some with ties to the Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya, has found that male baboons in the wild at times engage in feticide. ...

What humans and primates both know when it comes to numbers

January 18, 2017

For the past several years, Jessica Cantlon has been working to understand how humans develop the concept of numbers, from simple counting to complex mathematical reasoning. Early in her career at the University of Rochester, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.