HudsonAlpha part of team sending cotton to the International Space Station

HudsonAlpha part of team sending cotton to the International Space Station

Photo: Jeremy Schmutz at the SpaceX launch


In 2018, a Clemson University and HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology project was selected as a winner in the Cotton Sustainability Challenge, run by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, and sponsored by the Target Corporation. The challenge provided researchers and innovators the opportunity to propose solutions to improve crop production on Earth by sending their concepts to the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory.

The cotton cells for the project finally embarked on their trip to the ISS aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft early this morning. The project, entitled “Unlocking the Cotton Genome to Precision Genetics,” explores the cotton genome and how it reacts differently in micro-gravity and normal gravity. More specifically, the team aims to use the tools of genetic sequencing to examine gene expression, DNA methylation patterns, and genome sequences of three different types of cotton using embryogenic cotton cells.

HudsonAlpha Faculty Investigator Jeremy Schmutz and his group at the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center will perform DNA and RNA sequencing on the samples that return from space (as well as similar Earth-grown samples) to study gene expression and bisulfite sequencing to look at methylation patterns.

“We have shown that cotton has very little diversity as a species, which greatly limits the possibilities of improving the sustainability of cotton through traditional breeding techniques,” Schmutz said. “Accelerating the speed at which we can transform cotton opens up the ability to rapidly test genes linked to beneficial traits and also enables targeted modifications in important cotton lines for U.S. growers and the many industries that depend on high-quality cotton production.”

To hear Schmutz talk more about this exciting project, listen to Season 2, Episode 5 of Tiny Expeditions podcast.

To learn more about the Clemson/HudsonAlpha cotton project, read this article.