In Joseph Heller’s acclaimed novel Catch-22, mess-officer Milo Minderbinder tries to cash his unprofitable cotton reserve by trying to make people eat it (a satire on capitalist ambition). But eating cotton may not be fiction anymore as a Texan researcher, Dr. Keerti Rathore, has engineered eatable cottonseeds. By genetic engineering, Dr. Rathore and his team have come up with a way to reduce the toxin that is normally produced in cottonseeds during their development.
Ordinarily grown cotton plants have the toxin Gossypol which keeps them from being eaten safely by humans since the toxin damages human liver and heart, though cattle can and do eat it and digest it safely. Now, Dr. Rathore and his team have succeeded in ‘silencing’ the particular gene that triggers the formation of Gossypol in cottonseeds, allowing the seeds to be developed into human food.
Scientists had previously experimented with genetically engineering plants free of Gossypol and succeeded except for the fact that the absence of Gossypol rendered the plant vulnerable to pests and diseases. Dr. Rathore’s research, however, took into account this factor and engineered the cotton plant such that only the seeds don’t develop the toxin – the leaves, stem, and flowers still produce normal levels of Gossypol and not letting the plant succumb to pest and diseases.
Dr. Rathore’s research has groundbreaking implications for agriculture and food industry as well as the economic growth of countries where cotton is produced in large quantities, more particularly in developing countries. Cottonseeds can be used in making a variety of food items besides the popular cottonseed oil, which has been in use for dressing salads and preparing mayonnaise. The research is yet to go through more testing before commercial application of the technique is allowed to grow cotton with edible seeds. Dr. Rathore and his team are optimistic about further success of their research.
So, it probably won’t be long before you eat cotton in your lifetime. Bon Appetit!