People in Wisconsin know what it means to be cold. Maybe that’s why two researchers there have become the first to grow the raw ingredients for making genetically engineered thermal underwear.
In a scientific report being published today, a team of plant molecular biologists describe their creation of genetically altered cotton plants whose fibers are especially good at retaining warmth. They endowed the plants with two extra genes that make the bolls produce a chemical resembling polypropylene - a synthetic material known for its thermal insulating properties and a popular component of winter camping apparel.
Each fluffy fiber sprouting from the engineered plants is a blend of normal cotton and small amounts of a natural plastic, called polyhydroxybutyrate or PHB. .
Maliyakal E. John, who developed the cotton with Greg Keller at Agracetus, a biotechnology company in Middleton, Wis.