Genetics and Genomics of Cotton

Volume 3 of the series Plant Genetics and Genomics: Crops and Models pp 451-480


Impacts on Agroecosystems of Transgenic Insect and Herbicide Resistance in Cotton

  • Lawrence C. DavisAffiliated withBiochemistry Department, Kansas State University Email author 

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Cotton is the world’s major source of natural fiber. Enhanced production will require both a full understanding of the genomic potential of cotton species, and deployment of transgenes for specific traits. Genomic approaches documented elsewhere in this volume will allow identification of key genes in the process of capturing and converting photosynthetic energy to usable fiber. Genomic approaches also provide tools to target specific genes for altered regulation. As a first step to understanding the complex functions of a plant, introduction of transgenes can be highly effective and informative. Cotton, which requires intensive management for high yield production, is one of the few crops for which insect and herbicide resistance traits have been commercialized. Benefits to producers in highly mechanized agricultural systems have been substantial and adoption is widespread. Advantages in smaller scale production systems are much less clear. Because there are huge expenditures required to get transgenic plants into widespread commercial production, it is instructive to carefully examine the impacts of the currently available examples. Specific issues may differ but economic and sociopolitical factors will require similar consideration, whatever the trait being modified. Concerns have been expressed that there may be direct impacts of transgenes, such as insect or herbicide resistance genes, on non-target organisms, damage to insect predators, or risks of gene flow to wild species. Examples from around the world, in many different climates and agricultural systems have been reviewed. No scientifically solid evidence has been forthcoming to indicate that the gene constructs or cultivars per se have a negative impact on agroecosystems, including non-target arthropods, predators or wild cotton species. Heavy herbicide use associated with herbicide-resistant cotton may lead to increased populations of resistant weeds, but no-till production systems based on herbicide use may provide large benefits. Other interesting traits including disease resistance have been introduced to cotton but none have yet been commercialized or extensively tested at a field scale.