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Indian University Works to Grow Cotton in Red, Blue, Yellow Hues

A university in India is leveraging biotechnology to grow cotton in red, blue and yellow colors in an effort to curtail the rampant use of chemical dyes in the textile industry.

Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Japan’s Nippon Steel and Sumikin Bussan Corporation (NSSB) to develop naturally colored cotton using the genes responsible for color production in ornamental plants. Sakae Suzuki, a Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology scientist who successfully cloned the pigment genes, will serve as a project collaborator.

Cotton typically grows in white—or, less extensively because of their lower yields and shorter staple length—in shades of brown, copper and green. Speaking to the Hindustan Times, PAU vice chancellor Baldev Singh Dhillon recalled how cotton grown in Punjab in the ‘50s was khaki in color and “never underwent the dyeing process.”

“The colored cotton varieties will ensure better economic returns for the farmers, reduce extensive use of chemical dyes by the textile industry and also lead to reduction in environmental pollution,” Dhillon said. He anticipates the innovation will stir up no small amount of interest from environmentally conscious consumers. It might even jump-start a new trend of non-dyed clothing.

NSSB has a commercial interest in textiles because it imports cotton yarn from India through Nahar Spinning Mills, which is owned by the Oswal Group of Ludhiana.

The new varieties, which will be bred into high-yield varieties of cotton suitable for growing in India’s climate, will be available in four to five years’ time, Dhillon said.

“PAU is known for its strength in developing superior crop varieties and use of biotechnological tools for speeding up [the] breeding process,” Navtej Singh Bains, director of research at PAU, said during the inking of the deal in Ludhiana last month. “An interest in the development of cotton varieties with specific quality characteristics led the NSSB to PAU.”