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February 06, 2007

Food from Cotton?

I bet that idea never crossed your mind. I certainly didn't know that a cotton plant could provide you with anything else than wool. But nonetheless this plant seems to hold more potential than meets the eye.

Cotton plants were already used by Egyptians, Babylonians, Indians and the native tribes of Mexico thousands of years ago. Nowadays cotton plants seem to be ubiquitous on all continents except Antartica - of course. In 2004/2005 as much as 26 mio tons of cotton wool were picked and about 40 mio tons of cotton seeds were recovered. For some time now seeds have been pressed to get the cotton seed oil but the residues could only be used as cattle fodder because in contrast to humans cattle is resistant against the cotton plant toxin 'Gossypol'. Gossypol makes the cotton plant resistant against pests.

In the 1950's researchers had already cultivated a variation of cotton wool that was free of Gossypol. Well, the bugs had a field day with that one. Now scientists have created a new cotton plant whose seeds contain less only 2% of the usual amount of Gossypol which makes the seeds edible for humans. The beauty about this creation is that the Gossypol level in the rest of the plant remains unchanged so that it can still fend off hungry insects.

What makes the seeds so attractive as food is that they contain about 20 weight% of proteins. It is estimated that the yearly harvest of 40 mio tons of seeds would be enough to feed about 500 mio people. Another bonus is that as contrary to for example corn the cotton plant is a very hardy one it would be even attractive to small farmers in developing countries.

Ah well, trust the scientists to come up with a brilliant idea now and then. However, I wonder when the universe will strike back and some hidden flaw will emerge from this. On the other hand - you never know, it might even work.

Posted by Mausi at February 6, 2007 07:43 PM

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Great, real cotton candy! Praise science!

Posted by: Rob at February 6, 2007 08:14 PM