This article doesn’t have to do with knitting per se, but I thought it was interesting to think about how genomics can affect even those of us who don’t care about the mutation perfection of our corn and tomatoes. The process of producing the fibers that we use may start even before planting the cotton seeds.

Another good point at the end of the article: we may know where our fiber came from, but what was done to it between its harvest and the point at which it becomes a finished product? This aspect may be of particular relevance if you find yourself asking questions such as, Did the dye in my lovely red yarn cause my tongue to swell?



Frankencotton, the Shirt: Coming Soon to a Wardrobe Near You
Published: May 16, 2006

Genetically modified foods have caused no end of anxiety and distrust. But not genetically modified shirts. Why?Readers may imagine the reason is that there is no such thing as a genetically modified shirt, and they would be half right. The shirt genome has yet to be mapped, and the heritability of sleeve length is not widely accepted in either the textile or molecular biology community.

That doesn’t mean there are no genes being fiddled with in the making of that oxford cloth button down. Genetically modified cotton, also known as Bt, or transgenic, cotton, is grown all over the world and is present in unknown numbers and styles of garments.

Many consumers want food that is made from genetically modified plants labeled at the very least, so they know what they are getting. And yet, what is more personal? Corn? Or shirts? Well, perhaps corn.

But how about underpants? How would the world feel, how do you feel, knowing that at the moment you are reading this you may be wearing transgenic underpants?


According to a recent report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers at the University of Arizona, farmers who grew Bt cotton reduced their use of pesticides and increased the diversity of their insect populations, while protecting crops against the dread pink bollworm.

A similar genetic modification in corn has caused an uproar. Many countries have rules about labeling food that contains genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O. Zambia, for instance, has refused to import transgenic corn. But cotton has faced no such trade barriers.

The obvious reason is that people tend not to eat their shirts.


For the small, though probably fervent, number of people seriously worried about transgenic underwear, there is a label you can look for. Organic cotton, as defined by the Department of Agriculture, can’t be genetically modified.

Manufacturers may, however, use all sorts of chemical in the processing of organic cotton, so if the briefs are water repellent and permanent press, think twice.

Links for further reading:

Cotton Spinning

Perceptions of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Cotton Varieties: A Case Study of the Cotton Industry in Gujarat, India

Genetically Modified Crops in the United States

Genetically Modified Cotton: Much Higher Yields

Genetically Modified Cotton Damages Environment

What’s Wrong with Genetically Modified Cotton?


2 thoughts on “Frankencotton

  1. Isn’t it? Nothing to get my transgenic panties in a twist over, but still interesting to consider. Also the fact that apparently in some places, growing GM cotton isn’t good for the community…

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