Australian Scientists Make Major Breakthrough in Coloured Cotton Research

The dyeing of textiles like cotton is the second-largest water-polluting process on the planet. It most often takes place in countries like India and China where stringent safety procedures are rarely in place. 

As a result, waterways are poisoned by harmful chemical dyes and people living around them suffer from skin and gastric problems. There also seems to be a higher incidence of some cancers in these neighbourhoods. It’s little wonder that experts are looking at alternatives to using harsh chemical dyes when dyeing cotton. 

Cotton farm

The challenge to reduce the damage from cotton dyeing 

In recent years, some eco-friendly fashion brands have started to use natural dyes made from plants, fruits, and vegetables. However, natural dyeing takes longer and costs more than using synthetic dyes. This means that it has not been widely adopted in the textiles industry. 

Now, a team at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has made a potentially huge breakthrough. The scientists, led by Colleen MacMillan, have found a way to potentially grow coloured cotton, as a result of in-depth coloured cotton research. 

The team at CSIRO 

The CSIRO team has cracked the molecular code of cotton and created coloured plant tissue in Petri dishes. They are now concentrating on using this tissue to get coloured cotton to grow naturally. 

This is not the first time that CSIRO has helped the cotton industry in Australia. The organisation which prides itself on “using innovative science and technology” to solve “the greatest challenges” has assisted with environmental challenges. 

This has included the breeding of genetically modified cotton that is suited to the dry conditions that prevail in certain parts of Australia and other countries. 

Why coloured cotton is a game-changer 

This latest work by CSIRO is potentially a game-changer for the Australian cotton industry initially. It could also revolutionise the future of cotton across the globe.  

The research team has managed to produce a series of different colours in cotton plant tissue, in a change to traditional white cotton. As researcher Filomena Pettolino said, 

“We’ve seen some really beautiful bright yellows, sort of golden-orangey colours, through to some really deep purple.”

Most exciting is the fact that the team has produced black shades as black dyes are thought to be the most polluting dyes in use.

The future of natural coloured cotton 

While the research from the team at CSIRO is exciting, it’s important to note that it’s still ongoing. It will take several more months for the team to grow the tissue that has been created into flowering cotton plants that produce cotton seeds for future crops.. 

Only when this happens will the researchers know if they have successfully grown coloured cotton. However, the signs so far are positive. The coloured cotton genes have already been used to create coloured spots on the leaves of tobacco plants. 

If the final results of the research by the team at CSIRO are positive, it will be great news for the cotton industry in Australia and the global textiles industry. In addition, it will be a huge step forward in the journey to find a way to make fashion more sustainable overall as coloured cotton is one of the natural fibres that could provide an eco-friendly alternative to man-made materials. 

This is due to the fact that natural colour will add to the sustainable features of cotton as a fabric. It will also make it more affordable for brands to use cotton in the manufacturing of their products as there will no longer be a need to complete the dyeing process. 

Given these potential improvements to the sustainability of fashion, the cotton industry is excitedly awaiting the final results of the CSIRO research. So far, it seems like the team is well on its way to growing coloured cotton for the first time and changing the future of the cotton crop for good.


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