A few dozen petri dishes in a high-tech greenhouse in Canberra hold the potential to transform the global textiles industry.

They contain plant tissue, which within days will grow into cotton plants: not standard, everyday white cotton, but ones with a dazzling array of colours.

They are the product of CSIRO plant breeders dedicated to producing better, sustainable natural fibres that will hopefully one day lead to wrinkle-free, naturally dyed, stretchy cotton to outperform synthetic fabrics.

Colleen MacMillan leads the team of scientists who have cracked cotton's molecular colour code, adding genes to make the plants produce a colour.

"Having the cotton produce its own colour is a game changer," Dr MacMillan said.

"We've seen some really beautiful bright yellows, sort of golden-orangey colours, through to some really deep purple," fellow scientist Filomena Pettolino said.

It will be several months before the colourful plant tissue they have created grows into flowering cotton plants; only then will the scientists be absolutely certain of their success.

But everything points that way. Read More