The Texas High Plains often has extended periods between rainfall events, which can lead to a reduction in the yield and fiber quality of cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.). It is known that cultivated cotton suffers from low levels of genetic diversity due to the over-use in breeding of similar gene pools, which may hinder breeding for drought tolerance. In this study, for the first time the novel variability or genetic diversity of morphological and agronomic traits possibly created by the chemical mutagen ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) was evaluated to improve drought tolerance in cotton by traits’ response to different irrigation regimes. EMS is a chemical mutagen that has been shown to cause point mutations in the DNA of many model plants and crop species. Three EMS treated lines were advanced from the M1 to M4 generation as bulk-harvested populations. A diverse selection scheme was applied to capture most of the genetic trait-variability or diversity and superior lines in these populations. In 2014–2016 the diversity of these populations was evaluated based on four agronomic and thirteen morphological traits to determine differences in response to multiple irrigation rates. Analyses of these traits showed statistically significant (p ≤ 0.05) differences between and within populations when compared to the original non-treated EMS source, with most of the variability being observed in the high irrigation rate. However, none of the EMS treated populations had significantly (p ≤ 0.05) better lint yield than the commercial cultivar (control) in 2016. EMS yield performance was possibly constrained by the applied diverse selection scheme of this study. Traits such as total number of bolls, bolls retained at node 7 and below, and those retained between nodes 8 and 12, and bolls retained at node of first fruiting branch may be predictors to improve cotton production (yield) in water limiting environments.
- Ethyl methanesulfonate
- Plant mapping