Inherent Flame Retardant Cotton: A Reality

Cotton typically produces flammable fibers and is treated with chemicals to be flame retardant when used for consumer products like clothing, mattresses, upholstery, and carpet. The new cotton lines were created by a multi-parent breeding approach that resulted in new opportunities for natural genes to interact and develop the unexpected trait of flame retardancy.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) bred four cotton lines that can be used to make self-extinguishing textiles when exposed to fire and will reduce the need for flame-retardant chemicals to be embedded in consumer products

Although all the parental cotton lines produced flammable fabric, researchers found that flame retardance did not come from a single gene. Instead, they found that multiple genes created a phenotype for fibers with significantly lower heat release capacities. The new cotton lines also possessed the desired agronomic and fiber quality traits, making the lines sought after for breeding and consumer usage.

Scientists used a multi-parent advanced generation intercross (MAGIC) population to screen for naturally enhanced flame retardance (FR) in cotton textiles. They identified recombinant inbred lines (RILs) that produced fibers with significantly lower heat release capacities (HRC) as measured by microscale combustion calorimetry (MCC). Of the textiles fabricated from the five superior RILs, four exhibited the novel characteristic of inherent flame resistance, as they self-extinguished when exposed to open flame by standard 45° incline flammability testing.

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