Cotton Sprouts In The Petri Dish

You've heard of cultured pearls. Soon it may be cultured Fruit-of-the-Looms. Just as pearls can be induced in vat-grown oysters, scientists are growing cotton from isolated cotton ovules grown in petri dishes to figure how to genetically strengthen the fiber.

With enough information, growing and harvesting the raw material could get much cheaper, and with cotton representing a $40 billion industry in the U.S., that's no mere puff. R. Malcolm Brown Jr., a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at the University of Texas at Austin, and grad student Rong Feng have concocted a nutrient mix that lets the fiber-making part of the plant, the ovule, grow in liquid.

Having isolated these biological cotton factories, the scientists are using advanced microscopy techniques to study how various growth conditions affect the structure of the cotton fibers. "My ultimate goal would be to modify the cotton fibers so we can have new kinds of fibers for different textiles," says Brown.

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