US regulators have approved the cultivation of a GM cotton plant, which could act as a protein-packed food source in countries suffering from malnutrition, Reuters reports.

The plant was developed by a team of scientists at Texas A&M University, led by biotechnologist Keerti Rathore. The cottonseed has had the toxic chemical, gossypol, removed using a process called RNA interference, leaving only natural levels of gossypol to protect the plant against insects and disease.

Rathore said that after cottonseed oil had been extracted from the plant, the remaining high-protein meal could find many uses. “To me, personally, it tastes somewhat like chickpea and it could easily be used to make a tasty hummus.”

The US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service lifted the regulatory prohibition on cultivation on 16 October. However, the new GM cottonseed cannot be used for human or animal consumption yet because it has not gained approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Cotton is grown around the world in about 80 countries to make textiles. Rathore said the cottonseed from the new cotton plant could be used to make flour for breads or in protein bars, while whole cottonseed could be consumed as a snack or made into a peanut butter-type paste.

He added that if all the cottonseed currently produced around the world was used for human consumption, it could meet the protein requirements of 575M people.

For this new cotton plant to be produced, every country would have to give regulatory approval, although US regulatory action was often taken into consideration by other countries, Reuters said.