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The Jean Genie

By Stephen Luntz

Dr Yves Al-Ghazi is finding genes that can make better clothing, but plans to put his scientific training to a very different use.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Cancer charities raise money through “jeans for genes”, but Dr Yves Al-Ghazi is reversing the order, finding cotton genes that can make a better pair of jeans.

As a rule, those who use cotton are looking for fibres that are long, strong and fine. A large part of Al-Ghazi’s work is trying to identify the genes that make a plant produce such fibres rather than short, fat and weak ones. Uniformity of fibres is also highly desired.

To do this Al-Ghazi uses a microchip that tests for the presence of 24,000 genes. Samples of RNA from cotton are tested against the chip, and Al-Ghazi can then use statistical techniques to see which genes are associated with the highest quality fibre.

As well as chasing the source of characteristics that consumers want, Al-Ghazi looks for genes with niche appeal. “Cotton is very hydrophilic,” Al-Ghazi says. “Mostly this is good. For example, it absorbs sweat during sport. However, sometimes a manufacturer wants some that are more hydrophobic, so we look at the surface characteristics.”

Important as Al-Ghazi’s work at CSIRO Plant Industry is, he says it is just the beginning. “They call me the gene hunter, but there is a long way to go before the prey is killed.” Other scientists need to breed cotton with the genes he has identified and see whether it does in fact produce the desired characteristics.

Pressure for...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.