Until now, cotton seeds were normally inedible by humans, because they contain a poisonous substance called gossypol. Cows can eat cotton seeds because of their multiple stomachs which are able to get rid of the toxins before digesting the seeds further – humans, however, cannot do that. Scientists in Texas have found a way to drastically reduce the toxin levels in cotton seeds, to an extent where they’re no longer harmful to humans.
According to some experts, this can completely change the food situation in the world, as it will provide new options for poor people who’re currently starving on low-protein diets. Cotton is cheap to grow and this will surely reduce starvation a lot.
The effects of gossypol on humans are a sharp reduction of potassium levels in the blood, which in turn damages the heart and liver very severely. Chickens that have been fed nothing but cotton seeds usually die in one week.
Scientists have been trying hard to find a way to remove gossypol from cotton seeds – there was a minor breakthrough in the 1950s, when a method was discovered to grow cotton without any gossypol at all. However, this proved to be impossible in outside conditions, as gossypol also acts as the plant’s main defense against insects and parasites.