DNA and Cotton: How One Lab in Long Island is Changing Things Up With Their Unique Testing Methods

cottonTypically, when a person thinks of DNA testing, they think of medical testing on humans. However, one small laboratory is challenging this preconception, focusing their efforts on testing cotton.


Applied DNA Sciences is a small laboratory located just 90 miles away from New York City, and their scientists are looking for authenticity in the cotton fibers that come their way. And they are utilizing DNA technology to find out.

This investigation comes at a time when retail giant Target is under severe criticism for selling phony cotton sheets. Labeled as a more luxurious Egyptian cotton, Target quickly came under fire once users discovered they were in fact made with a cheaper form of cotton. In the end, Target had to reclaim 75,000 sets of sheets and pillowcases off their shelves.

Nervous about their own stock, other retail stores Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart, and JCPenny are launching an investigation into the quality and authenticity of the cotton used in their bedding.

That is where Applied DNA Sciences comes in. While Egyptian cotton is the most sought after cotton product, cotton is actually grown in 85 countries and exported by 55, meaning it is easy for lower quality cotton to find its way into a retailer’s mix.

Cotton production in Egypt has decreased over the past few years due to poor management and country-wide droughts that have diminished the cotton supply. Consequently, cotton suppliers across the world have claimed the market as theirs, driving the price down on the crop dramatically.

These producers defend themselves by saying they do this in order to make their customers happy as they are offering a cheaper price.

“Customers want a better and better price, and the retailer applies that same pressure all the way through the supply chain,” explains James Hayward, Applied DNA Science’s CEO to Bloomberg Businessweek. “So what do the suppliers do? They cheat.”

It turns out that customers are less than happy with their cheaper products, and are sending their pieces to Applied DNA Sciences to determine if their sheets are authentic. And the scientists at their labs take on their roles with the dedication of a FBI agent.

Who knew cotton could be so controversial?