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Biochemist Chapman advances cotton plant research

Kent Chapman, Regents Professor of Biochemistry

Kent Chapman, Regents Professor of biology, has received renewed funding from Cotton Incorporated to advance two on-going cotton plant projects. Chapman is coordinator of the Signaling Mechanisms in Plants research cluster.

Chapman’s lab is steadily marking milestones in the science of growing better cotton while nurturing a long-time relationship with the industry leader, recognized for supporting environmentally sustainable cotton research across the country.

 In Chapman’s project, “Engineering Seed Value in Cotton – Strategies to Modify Seed Protein Reserves,” his team developed a methodology to measure oil and protein levels in cotton seeds using nuclear magnetic resonance. 
UNT researchers organized a survey of more than 2,200 accessions of the plant from the U.S. Cotton Collection, curated largely at the USDA Agricultural Research Service center in College Station. The survey looks at the existing race stock used for cotton breeding as well as exotic varieties of the same genus in search of candidates that may lend desirable characteristics such as lower protein production and higher oil and fiber production.

“The protein in the seeds is the least valuable bi-product of cotton harvesting, and it requires the most nitrogen from the soil,” Chapman said. “Making these low protein varieties is of interest to farmers not only because they yield the most valuable product possible, but because they limit the need for nitrogen fertilizer on fields, which lowers production costs and benefits the environment.”

In addition to searching for agreeable traits in the lineage, Chapman and his team manipulate direct seed protein production through genetic modification. Nearly a decade ago, Center for Plant Lipid Research colleague and former UNT professor Bob Pirtle cloned several of the genes that are responsible for the synthesis of polyunsaturated fatty acids in cotton plants. 

Chapman’s team is developing the legacy of Pirtle’s work in a second Cotton Incorporated project, “Genetic Engineering of Cotton Genes to Moderate Biotic and Abiotic Stresses.” By modifying the fatty acid components of plant cell membranes, Chapman and center researchers are trying to increase cold tolerance in seedlings, which would allow earlier spring planting and maturity of crops before the threat of fall frosts. Increased resistance to aphids is one side-effect of increased fatty acids in the plants. 

“The cold tolerance project has a very long history, from gene discovery to gene expression to demonstrating gene function in simple organisms, more complicated plants, and then in cotton,” Chapman said.  “It’s a real feather in UNT’s cap to have this support, because we are not even an agricultural school, yet we have several researchers on projects for Cotton Incorporated.” 

— Amelia Jaycen, Publications Intern, UNT Office of Research and Economic Development

Posted on: Mon 18 February 2013

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