Newswise — February 10, 2020 – Most of us associate cotton with its fiber. A by-product of cotton fiber production is the leftover seeds.  The February 7th Sustainable, Secure Food blog explores how scientists are making seeds from cotton edible for people.

Blogger Keerti Rathore explains, “Cotton seeds can be used for cottonseed oil, but that market is limited. The rest of these seeds are fed to ruminant animals, like cows.”

“This seemed like a waste to us in our lab because cotton seeds are high in protein,” explains Rathore. “In 2014, cotton growers produced about 47 million tons of cotton seeds. Those seeds contained more protein than the 1.27 trillion eggs produced globally that same year!”

Humans can’t eat typical cotton seeds because they contain a toxin called gossypol. Gossypol is toxic to red blood cells. Consuming gossypol can cause anemia and even death. So Rathore and his team at Texas A & M set about to make a cotton seed that was safe for human consumption.

“We couldn’t take gossypol out of the entire cotton plant because it is a natural toxin that protects from insects and some disease,” says Rathore. “Recently, my lab succeeded in creating cotton seed without gossypol – making it a good source of protein for humans!”

By removing gossypol in this new cotton seed, scientists have expanded potential markets for growers. Not only can they sell their fiber, but they now also have an excellent human protein source for sale.

“This, we hope, should get a better price than the current ruminant feed,” explains Rathore. “This boost in food security and farmer’s incomes doesn’t require additional inputs, like land, water or fertilizer.” In this way, cotton seeds can be one solution for a sustainable, secure food supply. 

To learn more about cotton seeds as food, read the new Sustainable, Secure Food blog:

This blog is sponsored and written by members of the American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science Society of America. Our members are researchers and trained, certified professionals in the areas of growing our world’s food supply, while protecting our environment. They work at universities, government research facilities, and private businesses across the United States and the world.

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