Australian scientist are working on a non-wrinkle strain of cotton

Cotton fibres. Image: CSIRO

The next advancement in science from Australia might be a type of cotton that stretches like a synthetic fabric and doesn’t wrinkle.

CSIRO scientists have started working on understanding what determines the length, strength, and thickness of cotton fibres.

“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,” says Dr Madeline Mitchell.

“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 often gets a bad rap environmentally but it is a natural, renewable fibre unlike synthetics which are made with petrochemicals.”

Every time synthetics, such as polyester and nylon, are washed thousands of tiny microfibres of material are pulled free and enter waterways.

These are not degradable and can build up in the food chain.

With cotton, fibres are also shed but these are biodegradable and break down naturally.

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% and cutting herbicide use by 60%.

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,” says Dr Mitchell.

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.

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