Armed with the latest high-tech research equipment, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Mississippi are investigating the genetic secrets of catfish, cotton, soybeans and other crops.

The goal of scientists at the ARS Mid South Area Genomics Laboratory in Stoneville, MS, is to improve these commodities by learning more about their genetic makeup.

Crops under study include cotton, soybeans, rice, sugarcane and catfish. The genomics lab is part of the Jamie Whitten Delta States Research Center at Stoneville.

To identify the gene responsible for a certain feature or trait, researchers use genetic landmarks known as DNA markers, which can be a gene or a section of DNA with no known function. The markers can tell them roughly where a particular gene is located on a chromosome. When a DNA marker is associated with a physical trait, such as disease resistance, this helps guide breeders to more effectively add, delete or modify desirable traits in farm crops or animals.

The laboratory has been instrumental in determining 70,000 expressed sequence tags (ESTs) from upland cotton. These short DNA sequences greatly speed the identification of important cotton fiber genes.