Fiber Strength, Environment, and Genotype:

    Reports of stelometer measurements of fiber bundle strength are relatively rare in the refereed agronomic literature. Consequently, the interactions of environment and genotype in determining fiber strength are not as well documented as the corresponding interactions that modulate fiber length. Growth environment, and genotype response to that environment, play a part in determining fiber strength and strength variability .

    Early studies showed fiber strength to be significantly and positively correlated with maximum or mean growth temperature, maximum minus minimum growth temperature, and potential insolation . Increased strength was correlated with a decrease in precipitation. Minimum temperature did not affect fiber strength. All environmental variables were interrelated, and a close general association between fiber strength and environment was interpreted as indicating that fiber strength is more responsive to the growth environment than are fiber length and fineness. Other investigators reported that fiber strength was correlated with genotype only.

Square removal did not affect either fiber elongation  or fiber strength . Shading, leaf-pruning, and partial fruit removal decreased fiber strength . Selective square removal had no effect on fiber strength in bolls at the first, second, or third position on a fruiting branch . Fiber strength was slightly greater in bolls from the first 4 to 6 wk of flowering, compared with fibers from bolls produced by flowers opening during the last 2 wk of the flowering period .

    In that study, fiber strength was positively correlated with heat unit accumulation during boll development, but genotype, competition among bolls, assimilatory capacity, and variations in light environment also helped determine fiber strength. Early defoliation, at 20% open bolls, increased fiber strength and length, but the yield loss due to earlier defoliation offset any potential improvement in fiber quality .


    Of the fiber properties reported by USDA-AMS classing offices for use by the textile industry, fiber maturity is probably the least well-defined and most misunderstood. The term, fiber maturity, used in cotton marketing and processing is not an estimate of the time elapsed between floral anthesis and fiber harvest . However, such chronological maturity can be a useful concept in studies that follow fiber development and maturation with time . On the physiological and the physical bases, fiber maturity is generally accepted to be the degree (amount) of fiber cell-wall thickening relative to the diameter or fineness of the fiber .

    Classically, a mature fiber is a fiber in which two times the cell wall thickness equals or exceeds the diameter of the fiber cell lumen, the space enclosed by the fiber cell walls . However, this simple definition of fiber maturity is complicated by the fact that the cross section of a cotton fiber is never a perfect circle; the fiber diameter is primarily a genetic characteristic.

    Further, both the fiber diameter and the cell-wall thickness vary significantly along the length of the fiber. Thus, attempting to differentiate, on the basis of wall thickness, between naturally thin-walled or genetically fine fibers and truly immature fibers with thin walls greatly complicates maturity comparisons among and within genotypes.

    Within a single fiber sample examined by image analysis, cell-wall thickness ranged from 3.4 to 4.9 µm when lumen diameters ranged from 2.4 to 5.2 µm . Based on the cited definition of a mature fiber having a cell-wall thickness two times the lumen diameter, 90% of the 40 fibers in that sample were mature, assuming that here had been no fiber-selection bias in the measurements.

    Unfortunately, none of the available methods for quantifying cell-wall thickness is sufficiently rapid and reproducible to be used by agronomists, the classing offices, or fiber processors. Fiber diameter can be quantified, but diameter data are of limited use in determining fiber maturity without estimates of the relationship between lumen width and wall thickness. Instead, processors have attempted to relate fiber fineness to processing outcome.

Estimating Fiber Fineness:

    Fiber fineness has long been recognized as an important factor in yarn strength and uniformity, properties that depend largely on the average number of fibers in the yarn cross section. Spinning larger numbers of finer fibers together results in stronger, more uniform yarns than if they had been made up of fewer, thicker fibers . However, direct determinations of biological fineness in terms of fiber or lumen diameter and cell-wall thickness are precluded by the high costs in both time and labor, the noncircular cross sections of dry cotton fibers, and the high degree of variation in fiber fineness.

    Advances in image analysis have improved determinations of fiber biological fineness and maturity , but fiber image analyses remain too slow and limited with respect to sample size for inclusion in the HVI-based cotton-classing process.

    Originally, the textile industry adopted gravimetric fiber fineness or linear density as an indicator of the fiber-spinning properties that depend on fiber fineness and maturity combined . This gravimetric fineness testing method was discontinued in 1989, but the textile linear density unit of tex persists. Tex is measured as grams per kilometer of fiber or yarn, and fiber fineness is usually expressed as millitex or micrograms per meter . Earlier, direct measurements of fiber fineness (either biological or gravimetric) subsequently were replaced by indirect fineness measurements based on the resistance of a bundle of fibers to airflow.

    The first indirect test method approved by ASTM for measurement of fiber maturity, lineardensity, and maturity index was the causticaire method. In that test, the resistance of a plug of cotton to airflow was measured before and after a cell-wall swelling treatment with an 18% (4.5 M) solution of NaOH (ASTM, 1991, D 2480-82). The ratio between the rate of airflow through an untreated and then treated fiber plug was taken as indication of the degree of fiber wall development. The airflow reading for the treated sample was squared and corrected for maturity to serve as an indirect estimate of linear density. Causticaire method results were found to be highly variable among laboratories, and the method never was recommended for acceptance testing before it was discontinued in 1992.

    The arealometer was the first dual-compression airflow instrument for estimating both fiber fineness and fiber maturity from airflow rates through untreated raw cotton (ASTM, 1976, D 1449-58; Lord and Heap, 1988). The arealometer provides an indirect measurement of the specific surface area of loose cotton fibers, that is, the external area of fibers per unit volume (approximately 200-mg samples in four to five replicates). Empirical formulae were developed for calculating the approximate maturity ratio and the average perimeter, wall thickness, and weight per inch from the specific surface area data. The precision and accuracy of arealometer determinations were sensitive to variations in sample preparation, to repeated sample handling, and to previous mechanical treatment of the fibers, e.g., conditions during harvesting, blending, and opening. The arealometer was never approved for acceptance testing, and the ASTM method was withdrawn in 1977 without replacement.

    The variations in biological fineness and relative maturity of cotton fibers that were described earlier cause the porous plugs used in air-compression measurements to respond differently to compression and, consequently, to airflow . The IIC-Shirley Fineness/Maturity Tester (Shirley FMT), a dual-compression instrument, was developed to compensate for this plug-variation effect (ASTM, 1994, D 3818-92). The Shirley FMT is considered suitable for research, but is not used for acceptance testing due to low precision and accuracy. Instead, micronaire has become the standard estimate of both fineness and maturity in the USDA-AMS classing offices.

Fiber Maturity and Environment:

    Whatever the direct or indirect method used for estimating fiber maturity, the fiber property being as sayed remains the thickness of the cell wall. The primary cell wall and cuticle (together »0.1 µm thick) make up about 2.4% of the total wall thickness ( »4.1 µm of the cotton fiber thickness at harvest) . The rest of the fiber cell wall (»98%) is the cellulosic secondary wall, which thickens significantly as polymerized photosynthate is deposited during fiber maturation. Therefore, any environmental factor that affects photosynthetic C fixation and cellulose synthesis will also modulate cotton fiber wall thickening and, consequently, fiber physiological maturation 

Fiber Maturity and Temperature and Planting Date:

    The dilution, on a weight basis, of the chemically complex primary cell wall by secondary-wall cellulose has been followed with X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. This technique determines the decrease, with time, in the relative weight ratio of the Ca associated with the pectin-rich primary wall . Growth-environment differences between the two years of the studies cited significantly altered maturation rates, which were quantified as rate of Ca weight-dilution, of both upland and pima genotypes. The rates of secondary wall deposition in both upland and pima genotypes were closely correlated with growth temperature; that is, heat-unit accumulation .

     Micronaire (micronAFIS) also was found to increase linearly with time for upland and pima genotypes . The rates of micronaire increase were correlated with heat-unit accumulations . Rates of increase in fiber cross-sectional area were less linear than the corresponding micronaire-increase rates, and rates of upland and pima fiber cell-wall thickening  were linear and without significant genotypic effect .

    Environmental modulation of fiber maturity (micronaire) by temperature was most often identified in planting- and flowering-date studies . The effects of planting date on micronaire, Shirley FMT fiber maturity ratio, and fiber fineness (in millitex) were highly significant in a South African study (Greef and Human, 1983). Although genotypic differences were detected among the three years of that study, delayed planting generally resulted in lower micronaire. The effect on fiber maturity of late planting was repeated in the Shirley FMT maturity ratio and fiber fineness data.

     Planting date significantly modified degree of thickening, immature fiber fraction, cross-sectional area, and micronaire (micronAFIS) of four upland genotypes that also were grown in South Carolina . In general, micronaire decreased with later planting, but early planting also reduced micronaire of Deltapine 5490, a long-season genotype, in a year when temperatures were suboptimal during the early part of the season.

    Harvest dates in this study also were staggered so that the length of the growing season was held constant within each year. Therefore, season-length should not have been an important factor in the relationships found between planting date and fiber maturity. 

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