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Scientists discover how to grow colored cotton

EcoNote | July 13, 2020 | By:

Scientists in Australia say they have discovered a genetic modification that makes it possible to grow colored cotton. The scientists hope it will remove the need for chemical dyes, which can be harmful to the environment. 

Colleen MacMillan leads the team of scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science research agency. “Having the cotton produce its own color is a game changer,” Dr MacMillan said.

“We’ve seen some really beautiful bright yellows, sort of golden-orangey colors, through to some really deep purple,” fellow scientist Filomena Pettolino said.

Particularly significant is the CSIRO team’s work to breed naturally black cotton to replace black dyes, which are regarded as the most polluting of textile colors.

“This [research] can really have the potential to transform the global textile industry, because we’re making fibers that are still biodegradable, still renewable but still have properties that they don’t currently have,” Dr. MacMillan said. “That’s a big deal for sustainability.”

It will be several months before the colorful plant tissue they have created grows into flowering cotton plants; only then will the scientists be absolutely certain of their success. If the leaves of the biotech (genetically modified) cotton are colored, the fiber will be as well.

The team is also working on a longer-term project to create a stretchy, wrinkle-free cotton to replace synthetic fabrics. 

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