Understanding the genetics of modern crop phenotypes has a dual relevance to biology and crop improvement. Modern upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) was developed following thousands of years of artificial selection from a wild form, G. hirsutum var. yucatanense, which bears a shorter, sparser, layer of single-celled, ovular trichomes ('fibre'). In order to gain an insight into the nature of the developmental genetic transformations that accompanied domestication and crop improvement, we studied the transcriptomes of cotton fibres from wild and domesticated accessions over a developmental time course.
Fibre cells were harvested between 2 and 25 days post-anthesis and encompassed the primary and secondary wall synthesis stages. Using amplified messenger RNA and a custom microarray platform designed to interrogate expression for 40,430 genes, we determined global patterns of expression during fibre development. The fibre transcriptome of domesticated cotton is far more dynamic than that of wild cotton, with over twice as many genes being differentially expressed during development (12,626 versus 5273). Remarkably, a total of 9465 genes were diagnosed as differentially expressed between wild and domesticated fibres when summed across five key developmental time points. Human selection during the initial domestication and subsequent crop improvement has resulted in a biased upregulation of components of the transcriptional network that are important for agronomically advanced fibre, especially in the early stages of development. About 15% of the differentially expressed genes in wild versus domesticated cotton fibre have no homology to the genes in databases.