News last update:6 Aug 2012

Engineered toxin-free cottonseed

When removing the anti-nutrient gossypol from cottonseeds the crop could become a useful food source for humans and animals, Texas A&M University researchers found.

"The world grows cotton for fibre not for seed," said Keerti Rathore, a researcher at Texas A&M University in College Station. For every kg of cotton fibre, the cotton plant produces 1.65 kg of seeds that contain 21% oil and 23% of a relatively good quality protein. But nutrient-rich cottonseeds are unfit for human consumption because of a noxious chemical called gossypol. Currently cottonseeds are used to make feed for cows, which can handle gossypol, thanks to special microbes in their stomachs. But now the research team has found a way to genetically engineer cottonseeds that barely produce gossypol, possibly making the seeds fit for human menus.

Genetics to reduce gossypol

The recent research used a technique called RNA interference (RNAi) to suppress the biochemical pathways that produce gossypol in cottonseed tissue. "The RNA mechanisms only work on the seeds, so that the leaves still contain gossypol and discourage insects from chewing them," study co-author Rathore said. "If you knock it out throughout the plant is more susceptible to diseases."

Impact on food supply
The new study could have a large impact on global food security if the technique can be reproduced and cottonseeds are approved for (human) consumption.
Llewellyn, the Australian cotton researcher, says that developed countries will likely keep using cottonseeds for animal feed and food oils. "But there will be some interesting uses of the meal potentially as a substitute for soybeans," he said.

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