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USDA Gives Rare Approval to Texas A&M Scientist to Pursue New Discovery To Feed Millions, Boost Cotton Farmers’ Earnings

published: October 18th 2018
source: Texas A&M University System

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday gave its blessing to Texas A&M AgriLife Research to move toward commercialization of a new strain of cotton that has the potential to help feed half a billion hungry people across the globe while also doubling the income of cotton farmers.

It is only the fourth time ever that a university has successfully petitioned the USDA for deregulation – and the first time in Texas.

The development was the result of a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist’s life’s work.

After 23 years, Dr. Keerti Rathore figured out a way to remove a naturally occurring toxin from cottonseeds that made them inedible to people and most animals. The breakthrough by Rathore and his team at Texas A&M AgriLife Research will allow farmers now to grow cotton for both fiber and food.

The new seeds can be eaten, ground into flour or made into a peanut butter-like spread. They also can provide an excellent source of protein for animals that were unable to consume cottonseeds before Rathore’s discovery.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, who oversees Texas A&M AgriLife Research along with 11 universities and seven state agencies, said Rathore’s work will have a dramatic effect across the world.

“The work and dedication of Dr. Rathore has paid off,” Chancellor Sharp said. “He and his team exemplify the values of the Texas A&M System, and because of them, more than half a billion people across the world may have access to a new form of protein, and our farmers will be able to earn a much better living.”Through a project funded by Cotton Incorporated, Rathore and the Texas A&M team have developed a cotton plant without significant levels of toxin in the seeds. The plant, however, maintains normal levels of the natural toxin gossypol in the rest of the plant, which is important to protect it from pests.

Rathore said he has been focused for nearly a quarter of a century on unlocking “the potential to make this new source of protein available to hundreds of millions of people.”

Countries all over the world will see the advantages from Rathore’s development, but cotton-producing countries in areas that are struggling with famine and malnutrition could benefit the most from Rathore’s work. They will be able to use the seed-derived protein for human consumption and as a feed for poultry, swine or aquaculture species.

“I also realized the value to cotton farmers everywhere of removing gossypol from the cottonseed because such a product is likely to improve their income without any extra effort on their part or additional input,” he said. “Such a product can also be important from the standpoint of sustainability because farmers will produce fiber, feed and food from the same crop.”

The next step after move by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, is approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which is expected in the coming months. Then, it is onto commercialization, which would require involvement from philanthropies, investors or corporations.

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