By JOSIE MUSICO
Ryan Gregory’s cotton has no genetic modification or biotechnology traits, but it can’t be called old-fashioned either.
Gregory, a doctoral student at Texas Tech, researches new developments in organic cotton, and was recently announced as one of four nationwide recipients of $125,000 grants from Seed Matters to continue that research.
Gregory is specifically attempting to find an efficient method to screen organic cotton for contamination from genetically modified glyphosate-resistant traits.
Glyphosate is a herbicide often used under the trade name “Roundup.” To be classified as organic, the crop may not have any genetic modification.
“I found cotton has a high natural tolerance to glyphosate, so it is hard to treat non-Roundup-resistant with glyphosate to induce herbicide symptoms but not cause plant death,” he said.
Gregory studies the crop in breeding nurseries at Texas A&M AgriLife’s research facility, located at 1102 FM 1294.
He examines the plants to distinguish the ones that contain herbicide. He then tests the ones that don’t have it to determine if they have a glyphosate-resistant trait prohibited in organic growing.
“The ultimate goal of my research is to find the right rate and time that I can identify the genetically modified glyphosate-resistant plants just by looking at them, so they can be removed,” he said. “We need the ones that are not resistant to glyphosate to survive so they can produce seed for our breeding purposes.”
Jane Dever, a faculty adviser based with AgriLife, noted the research uses careful visual examination rather than expensive genetic-testing equipment.
“We’re trying to find a way to identify this contaminant by seeing it,” she said. “His research is to deal with contamination so we can focus more on important traits, like drought-tolerance.”
Gregory graduated from Tech in May with a bachelor’s degree in environmental crop and soil science. The self-described “breeder by training and farmer by heart” plans to continue his doctoral studies, then grow cotton on a larger scale.
“I want to be involved in crop production as well as cotton breeding,” he said.
Seed Matters officials aim to assist organic seed research and education to maintain an adequate crop supply. They claim plant biotechnology research receives a disproportional amount of federal funding in comparison to organic seed research, which they feel deserves more recognition.
“We want to promote more organic seed research by funding the next generation of plant breeders whose work will help protect organic seed diversity, which is the vital link for healthy and productive organic food systems,” said Matthew Dillon, director of Seed Matters, in a news release.
The three other grant recipients are from North Carolina State University, the University of Wisconsin in Madison and Washington State University.