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Cotton plant with edible seeds could offer nutrition to millions

Cotton, long known as “the fabric of our lives,” starts out as tufts of fiber and seed in the cotton plant. For every pound of cotton fiber or lint, there are 1.6 pounds of seeds.

According to NPR, there are 40 million tons of cottonseed removed from cotton lint every year. While these seeds are made into animal feed and oils that are safe for human consumption and used in many different food products, the seeds themselves are toxic to humans because they contain gossypol, a toxic chemical.  

Soon though, the cottonseed may be safe for humans and animals and used in everything from flours to hummus due to a new genetically engineered kind of cotton plant.

This week, the US Department of Agriculture approved a new kind of cotton plant that was developed by researchers from Texas A&M University.

Texas produces the most cotton in the United States, according to the National Cotton Council of America.

The cottonseed is packed with protein and oils, and so it has a lot of potential as a food source. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved the new cottonseeds, but the Department of Agriculture’s new move allows farmers to grow the seed and paves the way for testing and approval.

Gossypol is found both in the cotton plant’s seed and leaves, and it’s a significant deterrent for pests, but the researchers wanted to make the seeds of the plant safe while keeping gossypol in the leaves.

Keerti Rathore started working on creating a new kind of plant 23 years ago. Rathore found a way to silence gene expression or switch off the gene responsible for gossypol production in the seeds of the plant while still keeping the chemical in the leaves.

“This was my first project, and hopefully it’s coming to an end, and a good conclusion,” Rathore told NPR.

Rathore has even tried the seeds from his new genetically engineered cotton plant and says that they taste like chickpeas.

The potential impact that cottonseed could have on food demand is not small, and Rathore explained to Reuters that cottonseed could meed the daily protein requirements of 575 million people.

In countries where many people routinely don’t get the nutrition they need, but cotton is widely grown like in India, this new cotton plant could provide a buffer against malnutrition.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Reuters

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