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New cotton strain has potential to feed millions across the globe

Posted at 5:49 AM, Oct 23, 2018

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given its blessing to Texas A&M AgriLife Research to move toward commercialization of a new strain of cotton.

This new cotton strain has the potential to help feed half a billion hungry people across the globe while also doubling the income of cotton farmers.

It is only the fourth time ever that a university has successfully petitioned the USDA for deregulation – and the first time in Texas.

“It is a major development because prior to this, we have been limited on what we can do with one major component of cotton. For every pound of lint, there is a pound and a half of seed produced. The problem has been that cotton naturally produces a toxin called gossypol that protects it from insect traits,” said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agronomist Dr. Josh McGinty.

The development was the result of a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist’s life’s work.

“One of our researchers in College Station, Keerti Rathore, after a couple of decades of working on this project, found a way to silence that gene that produces the toxin in the seed. So without the toxin, now we can sell that seed for livestock feed, for a number of different species. Humans can consume it, and it can be an excellent source of protein, especially in other parts of the world where that is a real problem with malnourishment,” said McGinty.

The breakthrough will allow farmers to now grow cotton for both fiber and food.

“It benefits both sides of the industry. Farmers who ultimately end up choosing to grow ultra-low gossypol cotton could receive more of a premium on that crop. Because now, they are not just selling the lint, they will sell that seed at a higher value,” said McGinty.

The new seeds can be eaten, ground into flour or made into a peanut butter-like spread. They also can provide an excellent source of protein for animals that were unable to consume cottonseeds before the discovery.

“One hurdle we are going to have to face here in the U.S. for the cotton seed to make it on the market, the seed companies have to adopt it. That can take some time depending on what their level of interest is. I think the more immediate benefits are going to be seen in other countries though,” said McGinty.

Countries all over the world will see the advantages from Rathore’s development, but cotton-producing countries in areas that are struggling with famine and malnutrition could benefit the most from Rathore’s work.

They will be able to use the seed-derived protein for human consumption and as a feed for poultry, swine or aquaculture species.

The next step is approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which is expected in the coming months.

Then, it is onto commercialization, which would require involvement from philanthropists, investors or corporations.

CLICK HERE for a video detailing the breakthrough experiment.