Researchers have developed a way to infuse plants with special functions without the use of genetic engineering. This could be a way to create cotton that is lighter and stronger, that glows in the dark or is pigmented in a way that does not fade. While regulatory hurdles remain before it can be applied to industry, scientists are working to improve it.
The researchers used ovules from cotton plants, which grow cotton fibers after the plant is fertilized. The harvested ovules were cultured separately, without the normal, photosynthetic process making the sugars needed for growth. Instead, the plants were fed water containing glucose that had been attached to other molecules. Once the plants took up this modified glucose, it was taken into the ovules and passed on to cells that build cotton fibers.
After testing this method with fluorescent molecules, it was found that around five percent of the fluorescent material was weaved into the fibers. They had a yellow appearance in normal light but glowed green if exposed to ultraviolet light. There is still much to be done to perfect the technique, but it presents a new avenue for the production of a huge variety of modified plants and even bacteria.