COTTON is a widely-grown crop and its seeds are full of protein, so you might think they’d be a great source of food. Unfortunately, though, they’re toxic to humans.
That said, such is not the case with a newly-developed variety of the plant. Ordinarily, cotton plants (including the seeds) contain a toxic organic compound known as gossypol, which helps to protect the plant against insects and viruses.
Gossypol is also toxic to human red blood cells, causing anemia and even death in people who consume it. As a result, although the seeds can be used in cattle feed and as a source of cottonseed oil, their usefulness is limited.
Led by Prof. Keerti Rathore, a team at Texas A&M University set about addressing this problem by genetically engineering a variety of cotton called TAM66274.
It lacks gossypol in its seeds, making them safe to eat. The compound is still present in the rest of the plant, though, to maintain protection against pests and diseases. Additionally, the plant’s ability to produce cotton fiber is unaffected.
It is now hoped that TAM66274 could not only provide a cheap and plentiful source of protein to people around the world, but that it may also serve as an extra source of income to farmers – but without the need for additional land, water or fertilizer.