Genetic modification today is different than selective breeding, the age-old process of breeding plants or animals with the most desired traits. This is how (over thousands of years) your ancestors grew wheat with bigger kernels, or turned wolves into corgis. While this breeding did change the genes of those species, today “genetic engineering” refers instead to the direct editing of DNA to cause changes in an organism.
— Dave Asprey Blog
News that Australian scientists have "discovered" a way to genetically modify cotton to grow in color has been circulating widely on the web without any acknowledgement of the fact that cotton already grows in some beautiful shades without requiring genetic modification. The stories also leave out any acknowledgement of colorful cottons' past and give no credit to anybody today or historically involved with this endeavor. Many seem to be simply ignorant, but if the scientists interviewed aren't aware, I'd be very surprised! Not to mention the motherload of information they could be using.⠀
While I was attempting to politely email the authors with additional info, @elizabethlcline wrote an amazing response in @Forbes and was kind enough to include a mention about @DanuOrganic. If you have a passing interest in this plant, I'd recommend reading it in the link in our bio and if you're a fan, click every link! Elizabeth dredged up some prize articles about Sally's (@vreseis) work in the early 90s. Even I learned!
These articles called me to elaborate on 'genetically modified' cotton like the Australian scientists are pursuing and 'selectively bred' cotton which is what we buy from Sally Fox.
Genetically modified (gmo) cotton, for starters, is not organic. GMOs simply do not meet the definition of organic. Genetically modified cotton is a product of synthetic biology which is fueled foremost by profit goals and hopeful promises. There has already been one large failure of gmo cotton. In the early 1990s Monsanto developed a cotton called "Bt" or "Roundup Ready Cotton" that is resistant to Round Up, the main ingredient of which is the highly toxic ingredient, glyphosate. In India, Monsanto's partner, Mahyco Biotech, released this seed and it, unbeknownst to the farmers, intermixed with their traditionally grown cotton. Shortly thereafter, they did receive permission from the government to release this seed and it's become used widely. Unfortunately with devastating financial, health & happiness consequences to local farmers. Farmers fell into debt as they for the first time, had to buy seed every year. And the seeds "needed" Roundup and other inputs sold from another Monsanto branch - a conflict of interest. This debt, and perhaps the toxins, has caused such depression that by 2013, 270,000 farmers committed suicide related to financial problems and low crop yields.
Genetically modifying plants has also been shown to create an equal reaction in the problem they're trying to become resilient too. For example, if you alter the DNA of brussel sprouts to resist aphids, the aphids are likely to adapt and find a way to still feast on the brussel sprouts, "requiring" even more insecticides. I use "requiring" and "needed" in quotes because this is the justification of those who sell and use them. It is my practice that chemical inputs are never needed on the land and it's best we stick as close to ancient land addendum and pest control practices as possible.
The main risk I see in GMO plants is that they seem to have an incredible and unknown potential for harm. It's also very difficult to impossible to study that risk in the laboratory and in my opinion, too risky to take out of the laboratory without impact studies neutral to conflicts on interest which I'd dare to say has never happened because usually researchers studying and governments approving have conflicts of interest. Last but not least, GMO seeds are patented and you are not allowed to save or replicate them. This is a hierarchical structure that disproportionately hurts people of color and people with less economic means. In order to end racism and live in a just society, hierarchical power structures such as this must be leveled. Seed sovereignty is vital in a just society. Plants bred from seed the traditional way, as Sally Fox does, can be ordered from the USDA seed bank by any breeder and they can be kept and regrown which, in the modern hierarchical system, has made it harder for Sally and people who do similar work to succeed for fear of not being given due credit and financial payment for their work.
CLASSICALLY BRED COTTON
All Danu Organic cotton we buy from Sally Fox has been classically bred. At it's root, classical breeding is as simple as saving the seeds from your most delicious plants for the next year. Sally has cranked that up to an efficient science running carefully tracked test plots and specifically cross-pollinating species of interest and tracking the results. In this manner, Sally was able to achieve the first naturally colorful cotton that could be machine spun! Making it, for the first time, a viable alternative to toxic dye.
Plant breeders are still at the mercy of nature. They may speed evolution up, but they aren't achieving anything that will wreck unknown levels of havoc on our ecosystems and in fact, their goal and result is often to enhance ecosystems.
Fun Fact: The original cotton ancestor was thought to be somewhere between our cottons color and white. Both varieties have been selectively bred over many years to achieve certain qualities. Exact history is murky but it's thought that colorful cotton has been around since 2700 BC so this extends far beyond our lifetimes.
Though I'm working to become an expert in this subject matter, I humbly accept any mistakes and defer to the wisdom of those who know more should corrections need made. Please leave any question below.
I'd like to thank Rebecca Burgess for the resource of Fibershed, the book, which informed this article. Especially the part about the Bt cotton disaster in India. For more info, I recommend referencing the book. I'd also, of course, like to thank Sally Fox.