The evolution of spinnable cotton fiber entailed prolonged development and a novel metabolism

PLoS Genet. 2008 Feb;4(2):e25. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.0040025.


A central question in evolutionary biology concerns the developmental processes by which new phenotypes arise. An exceptional example of evolutionary innovation is the single-celled seed trichome in Gossypium ("cotton fiber"). We have used fiber development in Gossypium as a system to understand how morphology can rapidly evolve. Fiber has undergone considerable morphological changes between the short, tightly adherent fibers of G. longicalyx and the derived long, spinnable fibers of its closest relative, G. herbaceum, which facilitated cotton domestication. We conducted comparative gene expression profiling across a developmental time-course of fibers from G. longicalyx and G. herbaceum using microarrays with approximately 22,000 genes. Expression changes between stages were temporally protracted in G. herbaceum relative to G. longicalyx, reflecting a prolongation of the ancestral developmental program. Gene expression and GO analyses showed that many genes involved with stress responses were upregulated early in G. longicalyx fiber development. Several candidate genes upregulated in G. herbaceum have been implicated in regulating redox levels and cell elongation processes. Three genes previously shown to modulate hydrogen peroxide levels were consistently expressed in domesticated and wild cotton species with long fibers, but expression was not detected by quantitative real time-PCR in wild species with short fibers. Hydrogen peroxide is important for cell elongation, but at high concentrations it becomes toxic, activating stress processes that may lead to early onset of secondary cell wall synthesis and the end of cell elongation. These observations suggest that the evolution of long spinnable fibers in cotton was accompanied by novel expression of genes assisting in the regulation of reactive oxygen species levels. Our data suggest a model for the evolutionary origin of a novel morphology through differential gene regulation causing prolongation of an ancestral developmental program.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Cotton Fiber*
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Genome, Plant
  • Gossypium / genetics*
  • Gossypium / growth & development
  • Gossypium / metabolism*
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Phenotype
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA, Plant / genetics
  • RNA, Plant / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Plant
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Hydrogen Peroxide