Green-colored fiber (GCF) is the unique raw material for naturally colored cotton textile but we know little about the pigmentation process in GCF. Here we compared transcriptomes and metabolomes of 12, 18 and 24 days post-anthesis (DPA) fibers from a green fiber cotton accession and its white-colored fiber (WCF) near-isogenic line. We found a total of 2047 non-redundant metabolites in GCF and WCF that were enriched in 80 pathways, including those of biosynthesis of phenylpropanoid, cutin, suberin, and wax. Most metabolites, particularly sinapaldehyde, of the phenylpropanoid pathway had a higher level in GCF than in WCF, consistent with the significant up-regulation of the genes responsible for biosynthesis of those metabolites. Weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) of genes differentially expressed between GCF and WCF was used to uncover gene-modules co-expressed or associated with the accumulation of green pigments. Of the 16 gene-modules co-expressed with fiber color or time points, the blue module associated with G24 (i.e., GCF at 24 DPA) was of particular importance because a large proportion of its genes were significantly up-regulated at 24 DPA when fiber color was visually distinguishable between GCF and WCF. A total of 56 hub genes, including the two homoeologous Gh4CL4 that could act in green pigment biosynthesis, were identified among the genes of the blue module that are mainly involved in lipid metabolism, phenylpropanoid biosynthesis, RNA transcription, signaling, and transport. Our results provide novel insights into the mechanisms underlying pigmentation of green fibers and clues for developing cottons with stable green colored fibers.
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