Scientists Establish Reference Method for Cotton Maturity
August 18, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: Aug. 17, 2006
CONTACT: Norman Martin, email@example.com
LUBBOCK – Texas Tech University researchers are pushing toward development of genetically
improved cotton varieties with enhanced fiber maturity, while retaining all other
valuable quality characteristics important for entering profitable high-end clothing
After measuring more than 1.6 million individual fibers the scientists established
a reference method to determine cotton fiber maturity. This will allow the development
of germplasm with enhanced maturity and could provide DNA markers, making incorporation
of these genes easier for breeders.
“Even though maturity isn’t measured commercially today, it’s one of the most important
quality attributes,” said Eric Hequet, an expert in fiber property at Texas Tech’s
International Textile Center. “It’s directly related to fiber strength. Stronger fibers
will minimize fiber damage during mechanical processing (harvesting and ginning),
which will result in longer cottons with lower short fiber content.”
South Plains producers face a short growing season. The traditional short-season varieties
grown here had a shorter length, which generally limited their use to mass-market
types of products such as denim. New breeds of cotton introduced recently are producing
higher quality fibers, and higher yield, said Dean Ethridge, managing director of
the International Textile Center.
“It is a matter of meeting the market’s needs,” he said. “The ring-spun cotton yarns
suitable for making fine, light-weight cotton textiles require cotton fibers that
are long, strong and fine. However, it is a given that the cotton fibers must be adequately
Hundreds of genes affect cotton maturity, and biotechnologists have spent the past
five years pinpointing likely candidates. The process hasn’t been easy, largely due
to a lack of standardized scientific benchmarks that reflect maturity.
The common industry standard is micronaire, a critical cotton fiber quality that is
harder to visualize than other properties like staple length, fiber strength or color.
The micronaire measurement results from a combination of both the maturity and fineness
of cotton fibers, but it cannot separate the two properties.
“Micronaire readings don’t tell us whether the fiber is coarse and immature or fine
and mature,” Hequet said. “We want a fiber that is both fine and mature. If a fiber
is fine, you’ll be able to put many more fibers in the same yarn diameter, which means
you’ll have a stronger yarn, and ultimately a stronger garment.”
Hequet, along with colleague Noureddine Abidi, a polymer chemist, designed a series
of laboratory tests that focused on the specific fiber structure attributes and developed
a workable maturity reference method.
Like a funnel, each tool looked at an ever smaller portion of cotton until a single
fiber no bigger than a human hair was being evaluated using infrared microscopy and
image analysis of cotton fiber cross-sections. They spent four years and examined
1.6 million cotton fibers to develop the necessary methods needed to accurately determine
“It’s a long and complicated process,” Abidi said. “But now we expect to identify
the most promising candidates provided by breeders and biotechnologists later this
Texas, the nation’s largest cotton producer, produced a record 8.2 million bales of
the fluffy white fiber last year, which was 38 percent of the total U.S. crop.
The International Textile Center, a department in Texas Tech’s College of Agricultural
Sciences and Natural Resources, is an internationally recognized facility for textile
research, testing and evaluation. The 110,000 square-foot facility near Lubbock serves
a broad audience from yarn and fabric manufacturers to cotton breeders.
CONTACT: Eric Hequet, associate director of the International Textile Center, Texas
Tech University, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, (806) 747-3790;