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Cotton modified by chemists. Photo: Filipe Natalio

Cotton fibers that glow or are magnetic have been grown in a lab, researchers report in Science today. Instead of going the genetic engineering route, "we just used what Nature gave us," says study author Filipe Natalio from the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Why it matters: Dyes, retardants and other fabric treatments can wash away, wear off or irritate some people's skin. Beyond durability, the researchers say they've taken a first step toward "material-farming" that may allow specialty fibers to be made from plants, spiders or silkworms.

How it works: Plants arrange sugar molecules produced through photosynthesis to create fibers. Those molecules enter the plant's ovules (part of their ovaries where they are arranged and grow into fibers) in two different ways: by osmosis and through a gate of sorts that recognizes and allows the sugar in. Filipe Natalio, a scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and his colleagues synthesized glucose molecules that also carried a magnetic molecule or one that fluoresces into the cells that then used them to form the fibers. The result? Fibers with fluorescent or magnetic properties.

TBD: How to incorporate more of the molecules (roughly 5% of the fluorescence-modified molecules were absorbed) and to achieve the new properties without sacrificing others. (The modifications to the sugar molecules interfered with the way were arranged and weakened the fiber's structure.) Also, the cotton fibers in the study were grown in a lab. ("These are tiny amounts — basically for ant fashion," Natalio jokes.) To produce fibers with new functions at a meaningful scale, the researchers would need to figure out how to deliver the molecules to plans growing in a field.

If it works... Natalio envisions ones day being able to record data on fabric created from fibers that incorporate the material in CDs or reinforcing bamboo with carbon nanotubes.

Note: Science published an Editorial Expression of Concern about supplemental material provided by the researchers. Natalio said it is a labeling error that does not jeopardize the manuscript and they are writing an erratum in response. The findings of the study are contested by some researchers, per the NYT. On Nov. 17, 2017, the journal Science removed the Editorial Expression of Concern: "After discussions with the authors and minor revisions to the manuscript and supplementary materials, including corrections to a few other minor errors in the text that do not affect the conclusions of the paper, the editors are now confident in the results."

Go deeper

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan. 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

Financial fallout from the Texas deep freeze

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Texas has thawed out after an Arctic freeze last month threw the state into a power crisis. But the financial turmoil from power grid shock is just starting to take shape.

Why it matters: In total, electricity companies are billions of dollars short on the post-storm payments they now owe to the state's grid operator. There's no clear path for how they will pay — something being watched closely across the country as extreme weather events become more common.

U.S. Chamber decides against political ban for Capitol insurrection

A pedestrian passes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters as it undergoes renovation. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce revealed Friday it won't withhold political donations from lawmakers who simply voted against certifying the presidential election results and instead decide on a case-by-case basis.

Why it matters: The Chamber is the marquee entity representing businesses and their interests in Washington. Its memo, obtained exclusively by Axios, could set the tone for businesses debating how to handle their candidate and PAC spending following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.