Sorry to disappoint, but it has nothing to do with edible undergarments.
So why else would we need edible cotton? It turns out cotton seed is a great source of protein, except it’s currently toxic for humans. Cotton naturally produces gossypol, which is essentially an insecticide. While that helps the plant fight off insects, it also makes it poisonous to humans and most animals. But scientists at Texas A&M University discovered they could “turn off” the gene causing the plant to create gossypol. So the GMO version is a safe and edible version of its poisonous non-GMO counterpart.
And that means cotton could become a big component in meeting the world’s growing food demand. Protein is obviously an important part of our diet. Edible cotton has enough of it to meet the daily needs of 600 million people.
This fall the USDA approved a genetically modified cotton plant for commercial use. The plant still needs approval from the FDA, but that’s expected in the next few months. Some cotton plants were previously genetically modified to make them resistant to applications of Round-Up, just like some corn and soybean varieties.
Even with approval, it will still be a few years before farmers can plant the crop commercially because companies need time to create the seed supply. But some scientists predict the GMO variety could completely phase out non-GMO plants, because there really is no reason to have cotton produce gossypol.
Edible cotton obviously is directly at odds with the non-GMO movement. It raises an interesting dichotomy though: a use of biotechnology that could help us alleviate an impending problem in a sustainable way. The alternative is to grow more protein through animals, which will take more land and resources. So there seems to be a pretty easy choice here.
So it isn’t quite cotton candy or edible unmentionables, but the new GMO cotton has a lot of potental. Oh, and reportedly it tastes a lot like hummus. Yum!