A team of CSIRO scientists has started working on a cotton with many of the properties of synthetics, such as being stretchy, non-creasing and even waterproof, while retaining its natural fibre feel. For example the non-creasing textile is realized not by a chemical surface treatment, but is the result of newly developed fiber properties.
„We‘re looking into the structure of cotton cell walls and harnessing the latest tools in synthetic biology to develop the next generation cotton fibre,“ CSIRO scientist Dr Madeline Mitchell said.
„We‘ve got a whole bunch of different cotton plants growing; some with really long thin fibres, others like the one we call ‚Shaun the Sheep‘, with short, woolly fibres.“ Cotton is a natural, renewable fibre unlike synthetics which are made with petrochemicals. Every time you wash synthetics like polyester and nylon, thousands of tiny microfibres of material are pulled free and enter our waterways. These are not degradable and can build up in the food chain. When you wash cotton, fibres are also shed but these are biodegradable and break down naturally in the environment.
Through more than 30 years of improved cotton breeding using GM techniques, CSIRO and partners, Cotton Seed Distributors (CSD), is credited with reducing insecticide use in cotton growing by 85 per cent and cutting herbicide use by 60 per cent. Australian cotton is also the most water efficient in the world. „Australia produces three times more cotton per drop of water than any other country,“ Dr Mitchell said. „If we can produce next generation cotton then we can take a large market share of the synthetics industry and that‘s a win not just for Australia‘s $2.5 billion industry but also for the environment,“ Managing Director of CSD Peter Graham said. The next generation cotton research is part of CSIRO‘s Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform, a $13 million investment in science that applies engineering principles to biology.