The green light for human to consume genetically modified cotton has been given, paving the way for an edible cottonseed that tastes a bit like chickpeas - that its developers said could help tackle global malnutrition.
According to Reuters, the Food and Drug Administration's decision on the cotton plant developed by Texas A&M University scientists means it is allowed as food for people and all types of animals.
Texas' AgriLife Research plant biotechnologist Keerti Rathore said the scientists are holding discussions with companies and hope to have the plant commercially available within about five years.
He said the team also will explore seeking regulatory approval in other countries, starting with Mexico.
"Yes, we are fully aware of the resistance to genetically modified plants in many countries, but I remain hopeful that counties who are desperate for food will adopt this technology," Rathore added.
Cotton is grown in more than 80 countries, with its fiber used to make textiles and cottonseed currently used among other purposes to feed animals such as cattle and sheep that have multiple stomach chambers. Ordinary cottonseed is unfit for humans and many animals to eat because it contains high levels of gossypol, a toxic chemical.
Rathore's team used so-called RNAi, or RNA interference, technology to "silence" a gene, virtually eliminating gossypol from the cottonseed.
Gossypol was left at natural levels in the rest of the plant because it guards against insects and disease. The genetic modification does not affect the plant's fiber for use in textiles.
Rathore explained that after separating the cottonseed oil that can be used for cooking, the leftover meal with its high protein content can be used as a protein supplement in tortilla, bread and baked goods. The seed kernels can be roasted and eaten as snack or as peanut butter type of spread or in protein bars.
"To me it tastes like chickpea. Imagine hummus without any other ingredients added to it," Rathore added.
According to Rathore, if we use the current global output of cottonseed for human consumption, it would be enough to meet the basic protein requirements of over 500 million people.