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Got cotton? Texas researchers' discovery could yield protein to feed millions

COLLEGE STATION -- A scientific method used to explore cancer and HIV cures now has been successfully used by agricultural researchers in the quest to develop food for the world's hungry.

"The exciting finding is that we have been able to reduce gossypol which is a very toxic compound from cottonseed to a level that is considered safe for consumption," said Dr. Keerti Rathore, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station plant biotechnologist. "In terms of human nutrition, it has a lot of potential." The cottonseed from these plants meet World Health Organization and U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards for food consumption, he said, potentially making the seed a new, high-protein food available to 500 million people a year.

The work, announced today (Nov. 20) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was done by Rathore and a team of scientists from the Experiment Station, Texas A&M University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Southern Plains Research Center in College Station.

Gossypol naturally occurs within the glands in all the above-ground parts of the cotton plant including the seed. Rathore said the "beauty of this project" is that the gossypol has been reduced only in the cottonseed -- where the high levels of protein are packed -- but not in the rest of the plant where the compound serves as a defense against insects and disease.

The team used RNAi, or technology that can "silence" a gene. This enabled them to target the gossypol gene only in the cottonseed but let the gene express itself in the rest of the plant. The discovery of RNAi is what landed the Nobel Prize for Medicine this year for U.S. scientists Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello.

"What we have done is use this technology to selectively inhibit a gene that codes for an enzyme that is involved in the gossypol biosynthetic pathway in the seed, " Rathore said.

Cotton fibers have been spun into fabric for more than 7,000 yea
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Contact: Kathleen Phillips
ka-phillips@tamu.edu
979-845-2872
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications
20-Nov-2006


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