In Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, the business-minded mess officer Milo Minderbinder ends up with a surplus of Egyptian cotton, which he considers unloading by covering it with chocolate and serving it to the soldiers. Even if one did not mind cottonmouth, it would be a bad idea because cottonseeds contain the toxin gossypol. Researchers at Texas A&M University, however, have discovered a method to grow cotton plants that do not produce gossypol in their seeds, a finding that they claim could supply up to 500 million people a year with a high-protein food source. Using RNAi technology, scientists silenced the gene responsible for the production of gossypol in the cottonseed, although field tests outside the greenhouse are necessary to determine the effectiveness of the silencing. The study appears in the November 28 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
This article was originally published with the title "Edible Cottonseeds--If You Want to Eat Them" in Scientific American 296, 2, 26 (February 2007)