Genes for jeans
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CTA. 1994. Genes for jeans. Spore 49. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/49318
Cotton is grown over much of the world for use in the manufacture of fabric. Some of the dyes currently used to colour cotton for the clothing industry may soon be a thing of the past. These dyes are often harmful to the environment, and they take...
Cotton is grown over much of the world for use in the manufacture of fabric. Some of the dyes currently used to colour cotton for the clothing industry may soon be a thing of the past. These dyes are often harmful to the environment, and they take time and energy to penetrate the cloth. Two American companies are now trying to genetically engineer blue cotton fibres. They are trying insert into the cotton plants the colour gene from the indigo plant. If they are successful there may no longer be the need to dye the cotton used in the manufacture of blue jeans. This is just one of the many plans these companies have for the cotton plant: others include engineering longer, stronger, finer, warmer and wrinkle-free fibres. There are also opportunities to develop markets for the many naturally-coloured varieties which already exist, although their shorter, coarser fibres have in the past prevented their use in all but hand spinning processes. The challenge here has been to produce coloured cotton suitable for commercial spinning. Thanks to the plant breeders it has now become possible to produce naturally coloured cotton which can be machine spun. At present several browns and greens are available, with greys, oranges, yellows and even mauve on the way. The development of blue fibres however, is going to need the help of the geneticists. Such natural colours will be in demand due to their reduced environmental costs and the time saved in processing the cotton once it reaches the mills. The challenge is to develop them - something which Ken Barton of Agracetus (one of the companies involved in developing the blue cotton) does not see as a problem. 'Of course it will work ... Give a scientist enough time and money and he can do anything. ' However, whilst this sounds an exciting scientific breakthrough, others are already seriously worried by the development. Agracetus claims it now owns the rights to any genetically engineered cotton because it has been granted extraordinarily broad patenting rights. Their action has, in effect, allowed them to corner most of the multi-million dollar cotton market if their research is successful. The issue raises new doubts about whether patenting products and processes involving genetic engineering is appropriate. What has happened to cotton would seem to be a fait accompli. But what has happened to cotton could happen to wheat, potatoes or sorghum for instance, with serious implications for farmers of the Third World who already feel that their genetic inheritance has been pillaged by the developed countries.