a genomics, genetics and breeding database for

Published online 6 November 2013
Nucleic Acids Research, 2014, Vol. 42, Database issue D1229–D1236
CottonGen: a genomics, genetics and breeding
database for cotton research
Jing Yu1, Sook Jung1, Chun-Huai Cheng1, Stephen P. Ficklin1, Taein Lee1, Ping Zheng1,
Don Jones2, Richard G. Percy3 and Dorrie Main1,*
Department of Horticulture, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-6414, USA, 2Cotton
Incorporated, Cary, NC 27513, USA and 3Crop Germplasm Research Unit, USDA-ARS-SPARC,
College Station, TX 77845, USA
Received August 23, 2013; Revised October 12, 2013; Accepted October 14, 2013
CottonGen (http://www.cottongen.org) is a curated
and integrated web-based relational database
providing access to publicly available genomic,
genetic and breeding data for cotton. CottonGen
supercedes CottonDB and the Cotton Marker
Database, with enhanced tools for easier data
sharing, mining, visualization and data retrieval of
cotton research data. CottonGen contains
annotated whole genome sequences, unigenes
from expressed sequence tags (ESTs), markers,
trait loci, genetic maps, genes, taxonomy,
germplasm, publications and communication resources for the cotton community. Annotated
whole genome sequences of Gossypium raimondii
are available with aligned genetic markers and transcripts. These whole genome data can be accessed
through genome pages, search tools and GBrowse,
a popular genome browser. Most of the published
cotton genetic maps can be viewed and compared
using CMap, a comparative map viewer, and are
searchable via map search tools. Search tools also
exist for markers, quantitative trait loci (QTLs),
germplasm, publications and trait evaluation data.
CottonGen also provides online analysis tools such
as NCBI BLAST and Batch BLAST.
Cotton (Gossypium spp.) is the world’s leading natural
textile fibre crop and a significant contributor of oilseed.
Consisting of 50 species with different levels of ploidy,
Gossypium has long served as a model for studying fundamental biological questions on genome evolution, plant
development, polyploidization and crop productivity
(1–5). The application of new sequencing technologies
and high-throughput genotyping has improved understanding of diploid and polyploid cotton species and has
resulted in a wealth of genetics, genomics and breeding
information for cotton over the last two decades. These
publicly available resources include 49 genetic maps,
24 000 markers, >1000 quantitative trait loci (QTL) representing >30 agronomically important traits, phenotype
data from >15 000 germplasm accessions, >650 000 NCBI
sequences derived from 181 DNA libraries, 18 000 genes
and gene products, 460 000 expressed sequence tags
(ESTs) and expression data in the form of microarrays
and RNA-Seq from high-throughput sequencing. More
recently, two genome assemblies and annotations of
Gossypium raimondii, have become available (6,7). The
availability of the cotton genome sequence provides a
major source of candidate genes with potential for the
genetic improvement of cotton quality and productivity.
Integrating this whole genome data with other genomic
and genetic data in an online database that is easy to
query, view and download is essential to maximize
utility of these valuable research data.
Three online databases traditionally hosted much of the
available genomic and genetic cotton data prior to 2012.
CottonDB (8) was founded in 1995 as part of a national
USDA-ARS program to develop plant genome databases
for all agricultural commodities. Using a hybrid database
system, the genomic, genetic, taxonomic and bibliographic
data were stored in an object-oriented AceDB database
(9), while the genetic maps and genome sequences were
maintained in a MySQL relational database. Initiated in
2004, the Cotton Marker Database (CMD) (10) was
funded by Cotton Incorporated to provide centralized
access to all publicly available cotton simple sequence
repeat (SSR) markers and accelerate basic and applied
research in molecular breeding and genetic mapping. It
used a custom MySQL database with search interfaces
developed in the Perl programming language. The third
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. Tel: +1 509 335 2774; Fax: +1 509 335 8690; Email: dorrie@wsu.edu
The authors wish it to be known that, in their opinion, the first two authors should be regarded as Joint First Authors.
ß The Author(s) 2013. Published by Oxford University Press.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which
permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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database, TropGene Cotton (11), was developed as part of
a larger project to manage genetic, molecular and phenotypic data on tropical crop species. It uses a custom
MySQL database with search interfaces developed in the
Java programming language. The majority of public
cotton data from TropGene was shared with CottonDB.
CottonDB, while rich in data, was limited by older technology, which resulted in a relatively unfriendly query
interface and made further development difficult. CMD,
although more user friendly, was limited primarily
to marker data and used a custom database schema that
limited the integration of other types of data. CottonGen,
therefore, was created to address these limitations
by consolidating and expanding cotton data from
CottonDB, CMD and TropGene into a new, standardsbased, freely accessible scientific database for worldwide
cotton research. Another feature developed in CottonDB
but adopted by CottonGen is the hosting of the website
for the International Cotton Genome Initiative (ICGI).
ICGI is a non-profit organization created in 2000 to
increase knowledge of the structure and function of the
cotton genome for the benefit of the global community. It
facilitates global communication, collaboration, and education; knowledge and resource integration; technology
and resource development; and coordinates research
planning. The CottonGen team agreed to redevelop and
host the ICGI website within CottonGen as part of its
mission to serve as a centralized resource for the cotton
CottonGen is developed using Tripal (12), a toolkit for
construction of online genomic and genetic databases.
Tripal is based on a community-derived database
schema named Chado (13) and employs the use of
controlled vocabularies such as the Sequence Ontology
(14), Gene Ontology (15) and others to ensure standardization of data storage. Tripal currently is used for several
genome databases (16–21). Additionally, Tripal provides
simplified site development by merging the power of
Drupal (http://drupal.org), a popular web Content
Management System allowing non-programmers the
ability to contribute content with Chado.
Migration of data from CottonDB to CottonGen was
initiated on 1 October 2011, and CottonGen was released
one year later, superseding CottonDB and CMD with
additional data and enhanced functionality. As of 15
August 2013, CottonGen includes (i) the Gossypium
raimondii whole genome assemblies and annotation, (ii)
annotated unigene for the Gossypium genus, (iii) extensive
genetic and QTL maps, markers and traits, (iv) trait evaluation data, (v) enhanced user interfaces including various
search tools with downloadable results and (vi) resources
to support community activities and to facilitate communication among cotton researchers. Here we describe the
data and the functionality in CottonGen.
CottonGen Data and Web Interface
CottonGen contains various genetics, genomics and trait
evaluation data including annotated whole genome
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sequences, EST sequences, markers, traits, genetic maps,
genes, taxonomy, germplasm and publications. All
CottonGen web pages have a common navigation menu
for easy access. The navigation menu provides links for
general information, data, search, tools, help and community resources for the ICGI. The data section lists major
data classes in CottonGen (Table 1), such as gene,
genome, germplasm, map, marker, publication, species
and trait. Users can view a summary of the data, and
various links to access the data. The search section lists
various search tools such as for genes, germplasm,
markers, QTL, publications and trait evaluation. Each
search tool provides options for customization by
applying restrictions in the query. From the search result
site or the downloads page, users can download the entire
data and/or go to the various data details pages. Major
CottonGen data and the web interface to the data are
described below.
Genomics data
Whole genome sequence data
CottonGen includes the first fully sequenced cotton
species, Gossypium raimondii, from two independent
research teams (6,7). On CottonGen, these assemblies
are titled the ‘Gossypium raimondii (D5) genome JGI
assembly v2.0 (annot v2.1)’ (6) (referred to hereafter as
the JGI version) and the ‘Gossypium raimondii (D5)
Draft Genome BGI-CGP v1.0 Assembly & Annotation’
(7) (referred to hereafter as the draft BGI version). The
predicted genes from these assemblies have been further
annotated by the CottonGen team to include homology to
proteins in other well annotated or closely related species,
and in silico annotation of InterPro protein domains, GO
terms and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes
database (KEGG) pathway terms, providing information
on probable pathways and traits. Additional annotation
by the CottonGen team includes the alignment of cotton
genetic markers, and cotton transcripts such as
CottonGen Unigene version v1, Udall cotton Unigene
contigs (22), PlantGDB Cotton Unigene and NCBI
Cotton ESTs from all major Gossypium species. Single
nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) between the diploid
genomes of A and D and those between the tetraploid
genomes of AT and DT (T represents tetraploid) were
also aligned to the JGI version of the G. raimondii reference genome (23,24). The annotated sequence data can be
accessed in CottonGen via the genome page, gene and
sequence search tools and GBrowse (25). The genome
pages, found under the data navigation menu, contain
various downloadable files including the FASTA files of
predicted gene transcripts, coding sequences (CDS) and
predicted gene peptides. Excel files of protein homologues
with cotton genes and other species including those found
in databases such as Swiss-Prot and TrEMBL (26) and
NCBI nr (27), are also available with hyperlinks to these
databases. Other downloadable files include ESTs and
genetic markers in FASTA and Excel format that map
to the whole genome sequences and functional annotation
files from protein, Interpo and KEGG alignments. In the
gene and sequence search tools, whole genome data can be
Nucleic Acids Research, 2014, Vol. 42, Database issue
Table 1. Number of CottonGen entries by data type (15 August 2013)
Data type
Trait evaluation
of entries
119 971
14 959
23 935
10 731
73 296
5 peptide data sets, 15 nucleotide data sets (genome sequences, markers, unigenes, ests) for BLAST
Draft BGI v1.0 and JGI annot v2.1 G. raimondii genome projects.
1269 cotton genes from NCBI gene (06/12/2013); 40 976 and 77 726 CDS from the BGI v1.0 and JGI
annot v2.1 G. raimondii genome projects, respectively, and 21 698 Contigs from CottonGen
Gossypium Unigene v1.0.
From 14 collections.
19 074 SSRs, 3541 RFLPs, 2146 AFLPs, 1018 SNPs and 310 other types.
34 559 loci
Representing 25 traits
Journal articles, conference proceedings, patents, book chapters and theses.
Origin, genome group, germplasm, haploid number, sequences and libraries.
From 6871 accessions
found by filtering by name, GO terms, InterPro domains
or KEGG pathway terms (28) (Figure 1). From the alignment page, users can go to GBrowse. Using GBrowse, site
visitors can view genomic features aligned to the genome,
such as gene models, repeats, SNPs, as well as alignments
of ESTs, repeats, genetic markers and genes from other
plant model species. Each feature in GBrowse is hyperlinked to a page with sequences and additional information, and hyperlinks to external databases where
applicable. The chloroplast genome sequences and annotations of Gossypium hirsutum, Gossypium barbadense,
Gossypium arboreum and G. raimondii are also available
in GBrowse.
Annotated EST unigene
CottonGen contains all Gossypium ESTs publicly available from dbEST at NCBI as of 12 September 2012. To
reduce inherent redundancy in ESTs and generate a
data set representing the genes of cotton, we developed
the CottonGen v1.0 unigene. Routine processing
involved sequence filtering for contamination against
the NCBI UniVec database and species-specific chloroplast, mitochondrial, tRNA and rRNA sequences using
the BLAST algorithm with NCBI UniVec-recommended
parameters; trimming of low quality sequence; assembly
into contigs using CAP3 (29) with an overlap percentage
parameter of 90% (p -90); and annotation. 437 185
filtered sequences were assembled into 21 698 contigs
and 128 218 singletons to make a unigene set of
149 916 sequences. The CottonGen annotation procedure includes comparison of both the filtered ESTs and
the EST contig consensus sequences using BLASTX
against the SWISS-PROT, TrEMBL, InterPro, TAIR
(30) and other well annotated species protein databases.
The top 10 matches with an expectation value <1e-6 are
recorded for each EST and contig. Results of in silico
functional annotations of Gene Ontology (GO) terms
and functional classification by pathways from KEGG
are also recorded in the database. The 21 698 contigs
from the v1.0 unigene can be searched using the gene
and sequence search tools by name, Interpro domain,
GO term or KEGG term or gene and the results downloadable as Excel files from the search page. All the
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unigene data set and annotations can also be obtained
from the downloads page. Additional sequence annotation includes computational analysis of SSR found in
the unigene contigs using the method described in
Jung et al., 2008. Of the 21 698 contigs, 24.6% had
one or more SSRs, with 493 motifs detected in 6979
SSRs. The results may be obtained from the
Downloads page as an Excel file with details for each
SSR containing sequence including motif, motif length,
location in the sequence, location relative to the ORF,
suggested primers and expected product size.
NCBI genes
All Gossypium sequences from the NCBI nucleotide
database were downloaded, parsed for gene, mRNA,
CDS, 50 UTR and 30 UTR features and imported to
CottonGen. As with predicted genes from whole genome
sequences, genes parsed from NCBI have been further
annotated by homology to genes in other species,
InterPro protein domains, GO terms and KEGG
pathway terms. The distinct gene names in Gossypium
are stored separately in the database to build a community-driven gene database for cotton. Each gene, unique in
the Gossypium genus, is currently linked to all the NCBI
genes from various species and will serve as a base entity
to be linked to other associated data such as predicted
genes from whole genome sequences, QTL, genetic
markers and mutant phenotypes as annotation progresses.
All genes and mRNAs that are parsed out from NCBI
sequences are searchable in the gene search site.
Map, marker and QTL data
CottonGen provides access to the cotton genetic, QTL, and
physical (FPC) maps, including the underlying molecular
markers, QTL and mapping populations. For sequencebased markers such as SSRs, Amplifed Fragment Length
Polymorphisms (AFLPs), Sequence Related Amplified
Polymorphisms (SRAPs), and cDNA-Rapid Fragment
Length Polymorphisms (RFLPs), CottonGen provides
details on experimental conditions, such as the primer,
amplicon-sequence information and the PCR amplification
conditions. CottonGen currently has 49 maps, which covers
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Figure 1. Gene/Sequence search site in CottonGen. (A) Genes/sequences can be searched using various categories, such as by name, GO terms,
InterPro protein domain name or KEGG pathway term. The example shows the InterPro term search site. (B) The search result page has links to the
download, gene/sequence detail page and external database. (C) The Gene detail page has various tabs to show the data. The annotated sequence
page is highlighted. (D) The alignment tab of the gene detail page shows the position in the whole genome with link to GBrowse. (E) The GBrowse
page linked from the alignment tab of the gene detail page. Users can go back to the gene detail page from GBrowse.
Gossypium genome groups AD, A, D and G, consisting of
approximately 34 000 marker loci and a thousand QTLs.
Markers can be browsed and searched using various
search interfaces (found under search and then markers in
the navigation menu). All markers can be searched by
marker source, map information or nearby loci. The
advanced marker search interface allows researchers to
search by various categories in combination (Figure 2).
Researchers can also browse/search only the mapped
markers with sequences using various categories. From
the search result page, researchers can go to the details
pages of markers, maps, sequences, germplasm and
species. From the marker details page, relevant data such
as marker source, primers, polymorphisms, map information and anchored position in the genome can be accessed.
CottonGen houses 273 QTLs with associated data such
as CottonGen curator-assigned QTL label, published
symbol, trait name, alias, population, map position,
associated markers and statistical values. The QTL
search page allows searching for QTLs by trait name,
published symbol and QTL label. Search results are
hyperlinked to CMap (31) and downloadable in Excel
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Germplasm and trait evaluation data
CottonGen includes information for each of the 50
Gossypium species such as genome groups, geographic
origins, inter-species compatibilities and germplasm.
About 15 000 germplasm accessions are stored in
CottonGen. These individuals were identified from
>47 000 entries that consist mainly of the USDA-ARS
Germplasm Resources Information Network (32) cotton
collection, the cotton germplasm collection of the China
Cotton Research Institute, the Chinese Academy of
Agricultural Sciences and the cotton germplasm collection
of Uzbekistan Center of Genomics and Bioinformatics,
Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan. Germplasm data
include aliases, pedigrees, publically available passport information, stock collection centre, associated maps,
libraries and sequences. In addition, trait evaluation
data, with >118 000 trait scores, from 9000 germplasm
are available. The Gossypium species summary page
(found under data and then species in the navigation
menu) provides a list of species along with information
such as genome group, haploid chromosome number
and geographic origin. The summary of data available in
CottonGen is also given: number of germplasm, sequences
Nucleic Acids Research, 2014, Vol. 42, Database issue
Figure 2. Marker search site in CottonGen. (A) Multiple markers search sites are available based on the type of information users are interested in.
(B) An example search interface where users can view and search for marker source information. (C) A Marker details page with various links to
detailed information. (D) The Map position tab of the marker page shows all the maps where the marker has been mapped. (E) From the marker
page users can go to the CMap. (F) For the markers that are anchored to the genome, CMap provides hyperlinks to GBrowse. From GBrowse users
can follow the links to go back to Cmap, the marker detail page or the Sequence Retrieval Tool.
and DNA libraries. The species name in the table leads to
a species page, which shows more details such as common
name, images and additional data as seen in the summary
table. The species page also shows the results of functional
analysis of the genes, both from NCBI and whole genome
sequences, which include KEGG and GO analysis reports.
Several germplasm search pages provide access to different types of data (Figure 3). The search by collection page
provides a list of germplasm along with stock collection
centre information. The search can be filtered by collection centre name, germplasm name and/or accession name
in the stock centre. The search by pedigree page provides
an interface to search germplasm by pedigree and the
search germplasm by country page searches by the
country of origin. From the germplasm search page, researchers can go to the germplasm details page, which
shows all the detail information such as pedigree,
passport, collection centre, image and associated genotypic and phenotypic data. Germplasm can also be
searched based on their trait evaluation data. Both the
qualitative and quantitative trait evaluation search sites
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allows the trait values of up to three trait descriptors to
be specified to view the germplasm trait data. Data from
all the search result sites can be downloaded in Excel files.
CottonGen houses information about publications that
are important to cotton researchers. Details about publications were imported to CottonGen from NCBI PubMed
(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed) and the USDA
National Agricultural Library (NAL) (http://agricola.
nal.usda.gov/) databases. Additionally, details of publications from other journals not present in PubMed or the
USDA NAL databases were manually imported to
CottonGen. In addition, CottonGen maintains reference
information and abstracts for works published in cotton
research conference proceedings such as the ICGI
Conferences and the Plant and Animal Genome
Conferences. Book chapters, theses and patents are also
collected. In total, CottonGen houses 10 731 references.
Publications can be found using a combinations of
keywords (in the abstract or title), all or partial titles,
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Figure 3. Germplasm search site in CottonGen. (A) Multiple germplasm search sites are available based on the type of information users are
interested in. (B) An example search where users can view and search for germplasm and their collection centre. (C) A germplasm details page with
various tabs to show the detailed information. (D) The Map tab of a germplasm page shows all the maps for which the germplasm has been used.
(E) From the map page users can open CMap for further exploration.
authors and other categories. Search results link to publication pages that contain the abstract, citation, external
link to the full article and other details about the
Online analysis tools
CottonGen contains several online analysis tools. These
include an instance of NCBI’s wwwBLAST tool (http://
and a custom Batch BLAST tool where users can perform
pair-wise BLAST alignments using their sequences against
the current 20 CottonGen data sets. The Batch BLAST
server supports upload of large data sets for pair-wise comparison. It executes BLAST, and parses the output into an
Excel file. Users are notified by email when the job is
complete and directed to a website to download result
files. The same data sets are available in both BLAST
servers for alignment. Protein data sets available for
BLAST include Gossypium proteins from GenBank and
UniProKB and G. raimondii protein sequences from the
draft BGI v1.0 and JGI v2.1 genome data. Nucleotides
sequence databases include GenBank Gossypium
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sequences, Gossypium dbSNP, CottonGen SSR, RFLP,
Gossypium unigene v1.0, DFCI Cotton Gene Index v11
(http://compbio.dfci.harvard.edu/tgi/plant.html), PlantGDB
(http://www.plantgdb.org/) unigene from several Gossypium
species, Udall 2012 transcript contigs and predicted genes and
genome sequences from the BGJ and JGI genome data. The
Sequence Retrieval tool enables download of sequences
including full chromosomes, scaffolds, genes, full transcripts,
transcript coding sequences, proteins, genetic markers
aligned to chromosomes, unigene contigs and ESTs. Users
supply a list of sequence names to retrieve, and can filter by a
specific genome assembly, unigene or other project data. For
features aligned to a whole genome, such as genes, transcripts
and genetic markers, a user can include a specified number of
upstream and downstream bases in the sequence.
Community resources
CottonGen houses the resources for the ICGI. It maintains the ICGI membership database, information for the
ICGI biennial international research conferences, hosting
of biennial elections and tools for registration and
Nucleic Acids Research, 2014, Vol. 42, Database issue
manuscript submission for the 2012 ICGI Conference.
The CottonGen home page includes rotating pictures for
recent research stories or community news, brief project
descriptions, a news section for the cotton community and
a section to quickly find newly added site functionality or
data. Email mailing lists for both CottonGen and ICGI
are available for communication with the community, and
the mailing list archives can be viewed online. Other resources in the help section provide a Frequently Asked
Question page for CottonGen and ICGI and user tutorials
for both.
Cotton Incorporated; the USDA-ARS Crop Germplasm
Research Unit at College Station, TX; Southern
Association of Agricultural Experiment Station
Monsanto. Components of the infrastructure for
CottonGen were created under funding for Tripal development for other databases (USDA NIFA [2009-5118106036, 2009-51181-05808]). As these databases all use the
same underlying Tripal infrastructure, source code was
shared amongst all of these databases. That code is also
freely available on the Tripal website at http://tripal.info.
Funding for open access charge: CottonGen Grant.
CottonGen will be updated as new data become available
and new or improved functionality is added to the site.
This includes adding GBrowse-syn, a GBrowse-based
synteny browser (33), to view multiple sequence alignment
data, synteny or co-linearity data from closely related or
useful species such as cacao and Arabidopsis. A comprehensive breeders toolbox, similar to that developed for the
Rosaceae community as part of the USDA NIFA SCRIfunded project RosBREED (Grant number #2009-5118106036), is planned for future implementation. In addition,
a digital image library will be created for over one
hundred thousand images created from the USDA-ARS
Research Project: ‘Genotypic and Phenotypic Analysis
and Digital Imaging of Accessions in the US National
Cotton Germplasm Collection’. The associated phenotypic data will also be stored in CottonGen.
CottonGen is now the consolidated cotton genomics,
genetics and breeding database for the cotton community.
It aims to provide a comprehensive, integrated, online
resource that serves basic, translational and applied
cotton research. It is constructed using the open-source
Tripal genome database toolkit, which merges the power
of Drupal, a popular web Content Management System
with that of Chado, a community-derived database
schema for storage of genomic and genetic data. Data
types in CottonGen include maps and markers, whole
genome assemblies and annotations, gene and sequences
with analyzed data, taxonomic and germplasm data and
publication data. CottonGen maintains online resources
for ICGI, a non-profit organization created as a global
affinity group with common goals and interests. From
its release on 1 March 2012 to 15 August 2013,
CottonGen had 11 111 visits by 4756 unique visitors
from 94 countries who accessed 75 551 pages.
We acknowledge with thanks our funding sources, the
cotton research community providing data and feedback
and the Tripal community of developers for developing
and sharing Tripal modules and code.
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Conflict of interest statement. None declared.
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