GENETICALLY ENGINEERED PLANTS

  • The genetic revolution is well and truly underway in Indian agriculture with proposals for at least 5 crops before the Centre’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee
  • While controversy has dogged the environmental release of genetically engineered (GE) mustard, other GE crops are being prepped at institutes across the country.
  • Among these are GE potato, GE banana, and GE rubber.
  • For example, Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) in Shimla has received permission to conduct biosafety research level-I trials of the GE potato clonal hybrid KJ66.
  • “There are five stages of approvals. Event selection trial is the first, followed by biosafety research level-1 (BRL-1).”
  • These are followed by biosafety research level-2, environmental release, and commercial cultivation, the final stage.
  • GEAC has been evaluating proposals from research institutions and companies across the country.
  • Besides the BRL1 proposal for GE potato, it has received requests to allow event selection trials for GE banana and GE rubber. 

BANANA:

  • It is the world’s most widely consumed fruit after tomatoes, and India is its biggest grower.
  • Since banana plantations across the world are at risk from a fungus, scientists are looking at ways to create resistant fruit.
  • However, National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute (NABI) at Mohali, Punjab, is using genetic engineering to fortify bananas with iron.
  • It had applied to GEAC for event selection trials of five GE banana lines that express rice nicotianamine synthase genes.
  • With GEAC’s nod, the trials will be conducted at five locations in the 2022-24 cropping seasons: NABI Mohali; National Research Centre for Banana, Tiruchirappalli; Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Coimbatore; Navsari Agriculture University, Navsari, and Sarat Chandra Sinha College of Agriculture, Assam.
  • NABI Mohali has also proposed to conduct event selection trials of 20 GE banana lines expressing APsy2a or NEN-DXS2 genes that can naturally increase the amount of provitamin A in the fruit.
  • A provitamin is a substance that the human body can convert into a vitamin.

GE mustard safe for bees

  • One reason environmentalists oppose genetically engineered crops is that their effect on bees – which play a key role in plant reproduction through pollination – is not known.
  • “Based on the examination of scientific evidence available globally and recommendations of the ministries concerned, it seems unlikely the bar, barnase, and barstar system (of genes) will adversely impact bees and other pollinators. ”
  • Because environmental release is the last step before commercial cultivation, the committee recommended “further evaluation to be carried out as per Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) guidelines for release and notification. ”
  • So, field demonstration studies will continue for two years after the release, under ICAR’s supervision.

POTATO:

  • The KJ66 potato hybrid was derived from the wild Mexican diploid potato and will be evaluated for resistance to the late blight pathogen, Phytophthora infestans – a type of mould that caused a string of potato famines in Britain in the 1840s.
  • Last August, GEAC had allowed CPRI to go ahead with the KJ66 trials at its headquarters in Shimla, and its regional station at Kufri, outside Shimla city.
  • The confined field trials (to prevent accidental environmental release) will be monitored by the science and technology ministry’s Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM).

MAIZE:

  • GEAC had earlier given conditional approval to Karnataka-based Rallis India Limited to conduct BRL-1 trials with GE maize.
  • The genetically engineered maize expresses CRY1Ab, CRY1F and synthetic EPSPS genes. Its resistance to ‘Spodoptera frugiperda’, a type of moth, and tolerance to the glyphosate herbicide will be evaluated in 2022-23 and 2023-24 at two trial locations per year. 

COTTON:

  • Hyderabad-based Bioseed Research India, meanwhile, has sought permission for event selection trials of 10 GE cotton lines expressing the CRY2Ai gene that can make a plant toxic to the cotton bollworm.
  • It proposes to conduct the trials at two company-owned sites in Telangana and Jalna, Maharashtra, to evaluate GE cotton’s resistance to pink bollworm in the 2023 kharif season.

RUBBER:

  • A key raw material for the automobile industry, rubber is one of the crops being tweaked genetically.
  • Rubber Research Institute of India, Kottayam, has obtained GEAC’s permission for event selection trials of two GE rubber lines, expressing an osmotin gene derived from tobacco to confer biotic/abiotic stress tolerance.
  • THESE trials will be done at Sarutari Research Farm, RRS, Guwahati for 15 years during the cropping seasons from 2023 to 2038 as the rubber plant has a long gestation period of 6-7 years.
  • GEAC was told that osmotin, a stress responsive multifunctional protein, provides osmotolerance to plants.
  • It could be activated by several factors like the presence of common salt (NaCl), desiccation (dryness), ethylene, wounding, abscisic acid (a plant hormone), tobacco mosaic virus, fungi and UV light.
  • In the laboratory, osmotin has been shown to act against a variety of fungi, including Phytophthora candida and Neurospora crassa.

SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB

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