USDA Approves Edible Cotton
USDA Approves Edible Cotton

USDA Approves Edible Cotton

While farmers have the green light to grow the genetically engineered plant, FDA approval is still needed before the seeds are sold as food.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Oct 29, 2018


Researchers at Texas A&M University received good news this month: on October 18, the US Department of Agriculture announced it would deregulate a strain of cotton that university researchers had genetically engineered to carry low levels of poisonous gossypol in its seeds. The idea is that the modified cotton’s seeds could be grown for food.

Cotton is known for its white fibers that can be woven into soft fabrics. But for every pound of fluffy, white lint, the plant produces 1.6 pounds of peanut-size seeds, according to the NPR blog The Salt. Those seeds contain high levels of gossypol, which protects the plant against pests and disease but makes cotton seeds inedible. 

Texas A&M’s Keerti Rathore and colleagues inserted DNA into the cotton plant to turn off the gene responsible for producing gossypol in the seeds. The genetically engineered strain still has protective levels...

With the USDA’s approval, farmers are free to grow the genetically engineered cotton plants, but they’ll need the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration before they’re sold for human or animal consumption. Currently, cotton seeds can be fed to cows, which are unaffected by gossypol, but the new strain could serve as feed for chickens or fish as well, and be marketed for humans to eat.

“A lot of these countries [such as India] that do suffer from malnutrition are also cotton producers,” Rathore tells The Salt. “So I think that those countries may benefit much more from this technology.” 

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