Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Unusual Cabbage Mutation that Could Boost Crop Yield

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cabbage Mutation

Mains level : Read the attached story

cabbage mutation

Introduction

  • A recent paper sheds light on the remarkable ability to induce sterility in a diverse range of plants, including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, tomato, and rice. This sterility is achieved through a minute genetic deletion.
  • This deletion holds the promise of significantly boosting crop yields through a phenomenon known as heterosis.

Unveiling Genetics

  • DNA Structure: DNA consists of two long strands, each comprising four nucleotide bases: Adenine (A), Cytosine (C), Guanine (G), and Thymine (T). These bases form pairs (A-T and G-C) held together by hydrogen bonds.
  • Genome Organization: The cabbage plant (Brassica oleracea) genome contains approximately 1.06 billion base pairs distributed across 18 chromosomes. Each chromosome pair, derived from pollen and egg, shares a mostly identical sequence.
  • Role of Genes: Genes are well-defined DNA sequences, typically spanning a few thousand base pairs. When expressed, a gene’s segment is transcribed into RNA, which serves as the blueprint for protein synthesis.
  • Protein Production: RNA is processed by cellular machinery called ribosomes, directing the assembly of amino acids into proteins.

Role of Sterility in Hybrid Vigor

  • Discovery of Ms-cd1: Around 44 years ago, a cabbage plant with a natural mutation known as Ms-cd1 was identified. This mutation rendered the plant male-sterile, with a crucial twist: the eggs of the mutant plant could still be fertilized by pollen from normal plants, yielding normal seeds.
  • Hybrid Seeds: All seeds from mutant plants resulted from out-crossing, where eggs were fertilized by pollen from different strains. Such hybrid seeds, also called out-cross seeds, give rise to more robust plants with enhanced vigor, known as heterosis.
  • Dominant Mutation: The Ms-cd1 mutation was found to be dominant, meaning its presence in just one chromosome of the pair caused male sterility, regardless of the other chromosome’s status.
  • Recessive Mutations: The researchers demonstrated that mutations in both copies of the Ms-cd1 gene were necessary for male fertility. In such cases, the mutations became recessive.

Crucial Missing Base-Pair

  • Genetic Mapping: Through genetic mapping, researchers identified a crucial distinction between the mutated and non-mutated Ms-cd1 genes: the mutated gene lacked a single DNA base pair in its promoter region.
  • Promoter’s Role: The promoter sequence binds to regulatory proteins that control when and in which cells a gene is transcribed into RNA.
  • ERF Binding: In the mutated gene, this missing base-pair disrupted its binding to the regulatory protein ERF, allowing the Ms-cd1 gene to remain expressed, leading to male sterility.
  • Fine-Tuning of Protein Levels: Proper pollen development depends on a precise balance of Ms-cd1 protein levels, with ERF binding regulating its expression at different stages of development.

Extending the Discovery

  • Cross-Species Applicability: The dominant mutant gene was introduced into other plant species, including rice, tomato, and arabidopsis. In all cases, the recipient plants exhibited pollen developmental disruptions.
  • A Promising Tool: The genetic deletion of a single base-pair emerges as a powerful tool to produce hybrid seeds, not only in cabbage but also in various other crops.
  • Implications for Agriculture: This breakthrough offers the potential to harness heterosis and enhance crop yields across plant species, addressing global food security challenges.

Conclusion

  • The genetic deletion that induces male sterility in plants represents a remarkable stride in agricultural science, offering the prospect of abundant harvests through hybrid seeds.
  • This discovery opens new doors for sustainable agriculture and reinforces the critical role of genetic research in addressing the world’s growing food demands.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Private: Supreme Court questions Centre on GM mustard

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : DMH-11, GM Mustard

Mains level : GM Crops

dmh-11 mustard

Introduction

  • The Supreme Court has recently raised questions regarding the approval process of the genetically engineered mustard hybrid, Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11).
  • This inquiry specifically focuses on whether the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) considered the reports from the court-appointed Technical Experts Committee (TEC) on biosafety before its environmental release.

Background of DMH-11

  • Development: DMH-11, developed by researchers at The Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at the University of Delhi, is a hybrid variant of mustard.
  • Genetic Engineering: This variant is a result of crossing two varieties, Varuna and Early Heera-2, using genes from soil bacteria, barnase and barstar, to manipulate the mustard plant’s genes for desired traits.
  • Issue: DMH-11 is a transgenic crop because it uses foreign genes from a different species.

Supreme Court’s Inquiry

  • GEAC’s Decision Scrutinized: The Supreme Court questioned if the GEAC had considered TEC’s biosafety reports before approving DMH-11.
  • Government’s Stance: Attorney General, affirmed that the GEAC, as a statutory body, had examined relevant scientific data before approval.
  • Concerns Raised: Justice Nagarathna expressed concerns about whether the TEC’s reports, including a dissenting note, were adequately considered or disregarded.

Regulatory Framework and Approvals

  • Strengthened Regulations: The Centre claims that the regulatory regime for GM crops has been strengthened since 2012, ensuring a transparent and science-based framework for environmental risk assessment.
  • Conditional Approval: The approval for DMH-11’s environmental release is conditional, based on a rigorous risk analysis approach.

Controversy and Debate

  • Petitioners Argument: They argued that the GEAC’s regulatory system is flawed and riddled with conflicts of interest.
  • Concerns Over Herbicide Tolerance: Activist groups have raised issues regarding the use of foreign genes and the herbicide tolerance induced by the bar gene in DMH-11, fearing environmental risks and impacts on pollination.

Future of GM Mustard in India

  • Previous Approvals and Stalls: This is not the first approval of GM mustard by the GEAC. A similar approval in 2017 was stalled following a Supreme Court case.
  • Government’s Position: Despite GEAC’s approval, the Environment Ministry has not officially endorsed GM mustard.
  • Commercial Availability: If approved, DMH-11 would be commercially available after three growing seasons under ICAR supervision.

Conclusion

  • While the government and scientific community argue for the benefits of GM mustard in enhancing agricultural productivity, concerns remain about biosafety, environmental impact, and the adequacy of the regulatory framework.
  • The resolution of this case will be crucial in determining the future of genetically modified crops in India.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Pusa-2090: A Potential Solution to Stubble Burning  

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pusa-2090

Mains level : NA

Pusa-2090

Central Idea

  • In response to stubble burning challenge, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has developed Pusa-2090, an improved version of Pusa-44, offering similar yields but with a shorter maturity period.

About Pusa-2090

  • Development: IARI developed Pusa-2090 by crossing Pusa-44 with CB-501, an early-maturing Japonica rice line known for stronger stems and higher grain production.
  • Advantages: Pusa-2090 offers the same high yields as Pusa-44 but matures in just 120-125 days, addressing the stubble-burning issue.
  • Field Testing: The variety has undergone successful trials in Delhi and Odisha, and Punjab farmers have reported promising results.
  • Economic Benefits: Pusa-2090’s potential to match Pusa-44’s yields with a shorter duration makes it an attractive option for farmers.

Replacing Pusa-44

  • Pusa-44 in Punjab: In the current kharif season, Punjab has planted 5.48 lakh hectares with Pusa-44, accounting for over 17% of the state’s total paddy area.
  • Long Maturation Period: Pusa-44 takes 155-160 days to mature, delaying the availability of fields for the next wheat crop.
  • Stubble Burning: To prepare fields for the next crop, farmers resort to burning the remaining stubble after harvesting Pusa-44, contributing to air pollution.
  • Alternative Varieties: While there are alternative varieties like PR-126 with a shorter maturation period, their yields are lower than Pusa-44, impacting farmers’ income.

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Challenges and Ambiguities in Biotechnology Policy for GM Insects

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GM Insects

Mains level : Read the attached story

insect

Central Idea

  • In April 2023, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) issued the ‘Guidelines for Genetically Engineered (GE) Insects’.
  • The guidelines note that GE insects are becoming globally available and are intended to help Indian researchers navigate regulatory requirements.
  • However, the guidelines don’t specify the purposes for which GE insects may be approved in India or how the DBT, as a promoter of biotechnology, envisions their use.

Genetically Modified Insects (GE Insects)

  • A genetically modified insect is any insect whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.
  • GE insects offer multiple benefits, such as reducing disease burden, ensuring food security, and conserving the environment.
  • India’s bioeconomy contribution is expected to reach 5% of GDP by 2030, and GE insects play a crucial role in achieving this goal.
  • GE insects find applications in vector management, crop pest control, healthcare product production, and genetic improvement of beneficial insects.

Guidelines for GM Insects

  • Nodal Agency: The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) under the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) is the nodal agency and promoter of biotechnology in India.
  • Purpose: The Guidelines provide procedural roadmaps for those interested in creating GE insects.
  • Harmonization: The guidelines have been harmonized with guidance from the World Health Organization on GE mosquitoes, emphasizing their potential applications in disease control.

Why discuss this?

  • India’s bioeconomy, currently contributing 2.6% to the GDP, aspires to reach 5% by 2030, requiring substantial investment and supportive policies.
  • However, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) faces challenges in both funding and policy alignment with these goals.

Challenges in Biotechnology Funding

  • Stagnating Funding: Biotechnology funding in India has stagnated, with no return to pre-pandemic levels. The current allocation stands at a mere 0.0001% of India’s GDP, insufficient to drive meaningful growth.
  • Impact on Pandemic Preparedness: Inadequate funding hampers pandemic preparedness efforts, undermining national interests and health security.
  • Lack of Private Investment: Attracting private investment for biotechnology research and development is challenging and necessitates enhanced funding efforts.

Policies for a Thriving Bioeconomy

Guidelines for Genetically Engineered (GE) Insects: In April 2023, the DBT released guidelines for GE insects, offering procedural guidance but revealing three key issues.

(1) Uncertainty of Purpose

  • The guidelines lack clarity regarding the purposes for which GE insects may be approved in India, hindering alignment with the broader bioeconomy commitment.
  • Emphasis is placed on improving disease management, food security, and environmental conservation, but the economic potential of GE insects is underemphasized.

(2) Uncertainty for Researchers

  • The guidelines only apply to research and not confined trials or deployment, limiting researchers’ options.
  • Deployment of GE insects requires community engagement and monitoring due to potential environmental impacts, but criteria for approval remain unclear.
  • The absence of clarity on government support for specific insect applications discourages research investment.

(3) Uncertainty of Ambit

  • Ambiguity surrounds the definition of ‘beneficial’ GE insects, creating uncertainty among funders and scientists.
  • Lack of precise guidelines inhibits progress, particularly in a country with limited public and private funding.
  • Inadequate consideration of potential misuse or unintended consequences adds to the uncertainty.

Way forward

  • To achieve the ambitious bioeconomy goals set out in the Bioeconomy 2022 report, India must address challenges in biotechnology funding and policy alignment.
  • Increased funding, private sector engagement, and clear, supportive policies are essential.
  • The guidelines for GE insects should reflect economic opportunities and research priorities, fostering a thriving bioeconomy that benefits India’s society, economy, and environment.

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PUSA-44 Paddy Variety Ban in Punjab

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PUSA-44

Mains level : Stubble burning control measures

pusa-44

Central Idea

  • Punjab CM recently announced the state’s decision to ban the cultivation of the PUSA-44 paddy variety starting from the next agricultural season.
  • This move has raised questions about why such a popular paddy variety is facing a ban and what implications it holds for the state’s agriculture.

About PUSA-44

  • Origin: Developed in 1993 by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), PUSA-44 gradually gained popularity among Punjab’s farmers.
  • Rapid Adoption: Due to its high yield, Punjab’s farmers started cultivating it on a larger scale, covering 70 to 80 percent of the area under paddy cultivation.

Yield Comparison

  • High Yield: Farmers favor PUSA-44 for its impressive yield, producing nearly 85 to 100 quintals per acre compared to other varieties’ 28 to 30 quintals per acre.
  • Economic Advantage: The higher yield translates to increased income, with potential earnings of Rs 15,000 to 22,000 per acre above the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

Reasons for Ban

  • Long Maturity Period: PUSA-44 requires around 160 days to mature, significantly longer than other varieties, necessitating 5-6 additional cycles of irrigation.
  • Groundwater Depletion: Punjab faces severe groundwater depletion, and with an expanding area under paddy, the government aims to conserve water resources by banning PUSA-44.
  • Stubble Burning: PUSA-44’s extended maturity period exacerbates the issue of stubble burning. The narrow timeframe between harvesting and wheat sowing makes stubble management challenging, leading to increased incidents of stubble burning.
  • Air Pollution: Stubble burning contributes to severe air pollution in North India during the winter, impacting public health.

Impact of PUSA-44 on Stubble Burning

  • Harvest Timing: PUSA-44 is harvested just before the wheat sowing season, leaving a limited window for stubble disposal.
  • Stubble Quantity: PUSA-44 generates approximately 2 percent more stubble than shorter-duration varieties, compounding the stubble burning problem.
  • High-Incidence Districts: Several districts in Punjab, including Barnala, Sangrur, Ludhiana, Moga, Patiala, Fatehgarh Sahib, Muktsar, Bathinda, Faridkot, and Mansa, witness higher stubble-burning incidents, coinciding with the PUSA-44 harvest.

Stubble Burning Statistics

  • Burning Incidents: In 2022, several districts experienced a high incidence of stubble burning, primarily linked to the PUSA-44 harvest.
  • Persistence: Stubble burning typically began in the third week of October, coinciding with the PUSA-44 harvest, and continued until November 25.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

A GM crop decision that cuts the mustard

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GM food crops, GM mustard

Mains level : GM food crops, issues, food security and significance for India

What’s the news?

  • The zero-hunger target for 2030, as delineated in the 2019 Global Food Security and Nutrition Report, looms as an increasingly elusive goal. To overcome this pressing challenge, it is essential to expedite the genetic enhancement of crops.

Central idea

  • In a world grappling with the formidable challenge of ensuring global food security amid a changing climate, genetic engineering emerges as a beacon of hope. It has become an urgent necessity to complement conventional breeding methods with science-based technologies, particularly genetic engineering, for developing GM crops.

Extensive adoption and benefits of genetically modified (GM) crops

  • Increased Productivity: Genetic modification of crops, in combination with traditional farming practices, has been extensively documented for its role in increasing agricultural productivity. This technology has made significant contributions to global food, feed, and fiber security.
  • Global Adoption: According to a report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) in 2020, a total of 72 countries have embraced GM crops for various purposes, including human consumption, animal feed, and commercial cultivation. This widespread adoption reflects the global significance of GM crop technology.
  • Developing Country Emphasis: Notably, 56% of the total global GM crop area is found in developing countries, in contrast to 44% in industrialized countries. This highlights the importance of GM crops in addressing food security and economic challenges in the developing world.
  • Beneficiaries: GM crops have had a positive impact on more than 1.95 billion people globally. Specifically, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, and the United States have realized substantial benefits from the adoption of GM crops, benefiting approximately 26% of the world’s population.
  • Diversification of Traits: Genetic modification has extended its reach beyond the major crops of maize, soybean, cotton, and canola. Other economically important food crops have also been modified to exhibit various traits, including resistance to insects and herbicides, improved climate resilience, and enhanced nutritional quality.

Economic Gains and Biosafety

  • Economic Gains: The global economic gains attributed to GM crops between 1996 and 2018 have amounted to an impressive $224.9 billion. These benefits have primarily accrued to more than 16 million farmers, with 95% of them residing in developing countries.
  • Proven Biosafety: GM food crops, since their adoption in 1996, have established a solid track record of biosafety spanning over 25 years. This underscores the safety and reliability of GM crops for human consumption and the environment.

India’s Success Story with Bt Cotton

  • Commercialization: Bt cotton was introduced as the first genetically modified crop in India over 20 years ago, marking a significant milestone in biotechnology adoption in the country.
  • Economic Benefits: Bt cotton adoption has provided economic advantages to Indian farmers. It has reduced the need for chemical insecticides, leading to cost savings for farmers and reducing their exposure to health risks associated with pesticide use.
  • Increased Yields: Bt cotton’s resistance to pests, particularly the bollworm, has resulted in increased cotton yields in India. Farmers have experienced reduced losses due to pest damage, leading to higher production and improved economic returns.
  • Environmental Impact: The adoption of Bt cotton has had a positive environmental impact. Reduced pesticide usage in Bt cotton cultivation has led to lower chemical runoff and reduced contamination of ecosystems.

GM Mustard’s Progress in India

  • Development of the DMH-11 Hybrid: Extensive research was conducted at the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP), University of Delhi South Campus, to create a GM mustard hybrid known as DMH-11. This hybrid has been genetically engineered to exhibit higher vigor and yield.
  • Approval by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC): On October 25, 2022, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change in India approved the release of DMH-11 and its parental line for cultivation. This approval represents a significant milestone in the regulatory process for GM crops in India.
  • Environmental Release: The GEAC’s approval for the environmental release of GM mustard indicates that the technology has passed regulatory scrutiny for safety and environmental impact, paving the way for potential commercial cultivation.

Significance for India in Terms of Edible Oil Sufficiency

  • Reduction in Edible Oil Imports: India currently faces a substantial deficit in edible oil production, with a significant portion of its demand being met through imports. In 2020–21, India’s edible oil imports reached approximately 13 million tonnes, with a total value of ₹1.17 lakh crore.
  • Increased Productivity: GM mustard, particularly the DMH-11 hybrid, has been developed for higher vigor and yield. This increased productivity can play a crucial role in meeting the growing demand for edible oils in the country.
  • Resource Efficiency: GM mustard’s herbicide tolerance trait can lead to more resource-efficient cultivation practices. It helps conserve soil moisture and nutrients and reduces the need for chemical weed control, ultimately contributing to sustainable and self-reliant agriculture.

GM mustard’s significance for India’s self-reliance

  • Reduced Dependency on Imports: By boosting domestic edible oil production, GM mustard can reduce India’s dependency on edible oil imports. In 2020–21, domestic production of mustard oil was approximately 8.5 million tonnes, while domestic consumption of edible oils reached around 25 million tonnes.
  • Economic Growth: Successful cultivation of GM mustard can contribute to economic growth in India. It can increase farm incomes and reduce the outflow of foreign exchange for edible oil imports. This is vital for strengthening India’s self-reliance and economic stability.
  • Sustainability: GM mustard’s potential for resource-efficient cultivation aligns with sustainability goals. It ensures that agricultural practices are more self-reliant in terms of resource utilization and environmental impact, a critical aspect for long-term agricultural sustainability.
  • Crop Diversification: The adoption of GM mustard, along with other crops, can diversify India’s agricultural output. Reducing dependency on a limited number of crops enhances food security and reduces vulnerability to external factors.

Conclusion

  • The approval of DMH-11 marks a significant step towards harnessing this technology for the benefit of Indian farmers and the nation’s food security. However, this is just the beginning, and continued efforts to develop improved GM food crops are essential to enhancing the profitability of Indian agriculture.

Also read:

Genetically modified Crops and Transgenic Technology Needs Precautions

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International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ITPGRFA

Mains level : NA

Central Idea

  • In a global seminar organized by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), President of India underscored the importance of safeguarding farmers’ rights.

About ITPGRFA

Description
Objective Conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
Enactment Year 2001
Key Principles Conservation, Access and Benefit-Sharing, Farmers’ Rights.
Coverage Multilateral system covering 64 vital crop species.
Implementation Encourages signatory countries to integrate treaty provisions into national legislation.
Monitoring Establishes a system for monitoring treaty implementation and reporting.
Global Impact Contributes to preserving agricultural biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, and equitable access to genetic resources.
India’s Role India actively participates and supports the treaty, providing rights to farmers for unbranded seeds and registering their varieties, serving as a model for the world.

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Gene-Edited Mustard: Less pungent, more useful

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gene-Edited Mustard, Crispr, Cas9

Mains level : Read the attached story

Central Idea

  • Among India’s domestically grown oilseeds, rapeseed-mustard stands out.
  • However, its pungent oil and unpalatable meal have posed challenges for both consumers and livestock.
  • Scientists have undertaken breeding efforts to create Canola-quality (white) mustard with reduced pungency and improved meal quality.

About Rapeseed-Mustard

  • Rapeseed-Mustard: India’s significant oilseed is rapeseed-mustard, contributing significantly to vegetable oil production and meal availability.
  • Pungency: Mustard seeds contain glucosinolates, compounds that give the oil and meal their pungent flavor and odor.

Quest for Canola-Quality Mustard

  • Canola-Quality Pursuit: Scientists aimed to breed mustard lines with low glucosinolate content similar to Canola.
  • Reducing Pungency: Efforts to create low-pungency oil and meal have faced challenges due to the necessity of glucosinolates in plant defense.
  • Vulnerability to Pests and Diseases: Canola-quality mustard lines have not been cultivated extensively due to their susceptibility to pests and diseases.

Role of Gene Editing

  • Innovative Research: Gene editing emerges as a solution to balance glucosinolate levels for improved quality and plant defence.
  • CRISPR/Cas9 Approach: Researchers used CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool to target and modify 10 out of 12 GTR genes in Indian mustard.
  • Achieving Desired Changes: Editing GTR genes led to lower glucosinolate content in seeds while preserving higher levels in leaves and pod walls.

Benefits of GE Mustard

  • Easy Synthesis: Glucosinolates are synthesized in mustard leaves and pod walls before translocation to seeds.
  • Dual Benefit of Glucosinolates: The study revealed that edited mustard lines with low-seed glucosinolates exhibited improved defence against pests and diseases.

Distinction between GE and GM

  • GE Mustard: The new mustard lines are genome-edited (GE), not genetically modified (GM).
  • Transgene-Free Solution: Unlike GM crops with foreign genes, GE lines have no foreign DNA and no residual gene-editing tools.

Regulatory Considerations and Future Prospects

  • Regulation Changes: India’s regulatory environment is shifting, exempting GE plants free of exogenous introduced DNA from stringent approval requirements.
  • Potential Field Trials: Scientists are preparing for open field trials of GE mustard, with expectations to conduct them in the upcoming planting season.
  • Importance of Self-Reliance: With massive edible oil imports, domestic oilseed production through breeding advancements like GE mustard becomes vital for self-reliance.

Economic Implications and Self-Sufficiency

  • Importance of Oilseeds: India’s substantial edible oil imports highlight the need for boosting domestic oilseed production.
  • Mustard’s Role: Mustard’s high oil content and protein-rich meal position it as a significant oilseed crop.
  • Potential Benefits: Both GE mustard and GM hybrid mustard have the potential to reduce dependence on imported vegetable oils.

Conclusion

  • The journey of rapeseed mustard from its pungent state to a potentially improved, self-sufficient crop demonstrates the power of innovative breeding techniques.
  • The breakthrough in gene editing opens doors to balancing quality and plant defence.

Back2Basics: CRISPR/Cas9 Gene Editing Tool

crispr mustard

  • CRISPR-Cas9 is a revolutionary technology allowing precise genetic modifications by altering DNA sequences.
  • It’s a cutting-edge tool in genetic manipulation, generating excitement in the scientific community.

How does it work?

  • CRISPR-Cas9 employs two crucial components for DNA change:
    1. Cas9 enzyme: Functions as molecular scissors, cutting DNA strands at a specific location.
    2. Guide RNA (gRNA): Composed of a short, pre-designed RNA sequence within a longer scaffold. The scaffold guides Cas9 to the right genomic spot.
  • Guide RNA complements a target DNA sequence. It binds only to the specific DNA region, avoiding unintended interactions.
  • Cas9 follows guide RNA to the DNA sequence, creating a cut across both strands.
  • Cell recognizes the DNA damage and initiates repair.
  • Scientists harness repair processes to modify genes in a cell’s genome.

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Gene-edited mustard: Less pungent, more useful

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GM crops and recent developments

Mains level : Gene-edited mustard and its advantages

What’s the news?

  • Scientists have used gene editing to create mustard plants with lower glucosinolate levels in seeds, improving their suitability for cooking oil and animal feed, potentially reducing India’s reliance on imported vegetable oils.

Central idea

  • India’s domestically grown oilseeds, like rapeseed and mustard, provide cooking oil and protein-rich livestock meals. However, the pungent flavor from high glucosinolate levels limits consumer appeal, and an unpalatable meal poses livestock challenges. A genetic breakthrough offers hope, potentially transforming mustard’s applications.

Rapeseed-Mustard: A Key Crop

  • Rapeseed-mustard plays a vital role in India’s oilseed landscape, accounting for 42.6% of vegetable oil production and 30.3% of meal production, second only to soyabean.
  • Glucosinolates in mustard seeds contribute to the characteristic pungency of their oil and meal.

What is glucosinolate?

  • Glucosinolates are a group of sulfur- and nitrogen-containing compounds found in plants, including rapeseed-mustard.
  • These compounds contribute to the distinctive pungent taste and aroma of mustard seeds and other cruciferous vegetables.
  • The glucosinolates in mustard seeds are responsible for their characteristic flavor but can also limit their acceptability for consumption and livestock feed due to their strong taste and potential negative effects on animals.

The Distinction Between GE and GM Crops

  1. Genetically Modified (GM) Crops:
  • Contain foreign genes from other species, such as Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria in cotton or Bar-Barnase-Barstar in GM hybrid mustard.
  • Subject to stringent environmental release regulations in India, requiring clearance from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment.
  • GEAC’s approval is not solely binding; final authorization comes from the Union Government.
  1. Genetically Edited (GE) Crops:
  • Are transgene-free or non-GM, containing no foreign genes.
  • The Cas9 enzyme, used for gene editing, is eliminated in subsequent generations, resulting in transgene-free lines.
  • Benefit from an exemption provided by the MoEFCC on the requirement for GEAC approval for open field trials of GE plants free of exogenous introduced DNA.
  • Approval is now necessary at the level of an Institutional Bio-Safety Committee (IBSC) comprising scientists engaged in GE crop development and the DBT.

A Breakthrough in Gene Editing

  • Researchers, including those at Delhi University and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, have employed CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to address the glucosinolate issue.
  • They edited 10 out of 12 GTR genes in the Varuna mustard variety, significantly reducing glucosinolate content in seeds while maintaining higher levels in leaves and pod walls.
  • This editing also improved resistance to fungal pathogens and insect pests, enhancing the plant’s defense mechanisms.

Significance of this development

  • Reducing Edible Oil Imports: India’s significant dependence on edible oil imports, valued at $20.84 billion (Rs 167,270 crore) for the FY ending March 2023, underscores the need to curb foreign exchange outflow and enhance domestic production.
  • Addressing Economic Strain: The extensive import value strains India’s trade balance and foreign exchange reserves, making it imperative to boost self-reliance in edible oil production.
  • Promoting Agricultural Self-Sufficiency: This development aligns with India’s goal of achieving greater agricultural self-sufficiency by reducing reliance on imports and enhancing domestic oilseed production.
  • Impact on Oilseed Crops: Mustard and soyabean, cultivated across 9 million and 12.5 million hectares, respectively, are key to India’s oilseed sector. Mustard’s higher oil-extractable content of 38% accentuates its significance.
  • Nutritional and Livestock Benefits: Mustard’s improved suitability for culinary and animal feed purposes positively impacts both human nutrition and the livestock sector.
  • Scientific Innovation: The creation of genetically edited (GE) low-seed, high-leaf glucosinolate mustard lines and GM hybrid mustard showcases India’s scientific capabilities and innovation in agriculture.
  • Enhanced Food Security: By augmenting domestic oilseed production and quality, this development contributes to India’s food security and reduces its vulnerability to global market fluctuations.

Conclusion

  • The genetic breakthrough in editing mustard genes offers potential to revolutionize India’s oilseed sector. By lowering seed glucosinolate levels and maintaining higher leaf levels, it improves culinary and feed suitability. As the GE variety undergoes trials, it addresses oil seed production, import reliance, and self-sufficiency needs.

 

 

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Genetic Resources Commission gathers in Rome

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Commission on Genetic Resources

Mains level : NA

genetic

Central Idea

  • Delegates from around the world have convened in Rome, Italy for the 19th session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA).

What is Commission on Genetic Resources?

Description
Establishment Established in 1983 by the FAO
Membership 181 member countries including India
Governing Body Bureau consisting of Chairperson, Vice-Chairpersons, and FAO representative
Mandate Promote conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources for food and agriculture
ITPGRFA Responsible for implementing the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
Functions Address specific areas such as plant genetic resources, animal genetic resources, and digital sequence information
Global Goals Contributes to SDG 2 on Zero Hunger and sustainable agricultural development

 

Focus areas

  • The session will focus on three main topics:
  1. Review of work on biodiversity, nutrition, and human health.
  2. Access and benefit-sharing for food and agriculture.
  3. Digital sequence information for food and agriculture.
  4. Biodiversity for food and agriculture.
  5. The role of genetic resources in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
  6. Forest genetic resources.
  7. Microorganism and invertebrate genetic resources, including pollinators and biological control agents.
  8. Animal genetic resources

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Transgenic Crops in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Transgenic Cotton

Mains level : GM crops and issues

transgenic crop

Central Idea

  • The states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Telangana in India have deferred a proposal to test a new type of transgenic cotton seed.
  • This proposal had been approved by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of the central government.
  • The deferral of the proposal by these states indicates that the broader acceptance of genetically modified crops, including transgenic cotton, remains challenging to achieve in India.

What are Transgenic Crops?

  • Transgenic crops, also known as genetically modified (GM) crops or genetically engineered (GE) crops, are plants that have been modified through genetic engineering techniques.
  • These techniques involve the introduction of specific genes from one organism into the genetic material of another organism, resulting in the expression of new traits or characteristics in the modified crop.
  • The introduction of transgenic technology allows scientists to selectively transfer desirable genes into crop plants to impart beneficial traits such as:
  1. Pest Resistance: Genes from naturally pest-resistant organisms can be inserted into crops to make them resistant to specific pests or insects.
  2. Disease Resistance: Genes conferring resistance to diseases can be introduced into crops to enhance their ability to withstand infections caused by viral, bacterial, or fungal pathogens.
  3. Herbicide Tolerance: Transgenic crops can be engineered to tolerate specific herbicides, allowing farmers to effectively control weeds without harming the crop.
  4. Improved Nutritional Content: Genetic engineering techniques can be employed to enhance the nutritional profile of crops by increasing the levels of essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, or proteins.
  5. Abiotic Stress Tolerance: Transgenic crops can be engineered to withstand environmental stresses such as drought, salinity, or extreme temperatures.
  6. Extended Shelf Life: Such crops have extended shelf life or resistance to spoilage, thereby reducing food waste and increasing marketability.

Transgenic Crops in India

  • Cotton: Cotton is currently the only transgenic crop being commercially cultivated in India. It contains a gene called Cry2Ai, which is believed to confer resistance against the American pink bollworm, a significant pest affecting cotton crops.
  • Other Crops in Trials: Apart from cotton, there are several other crops in various stages of trials using transgenic technology. These include brinjal (eggplant), tomato, maize (corn), and chickpea. These crops are being developed with traits such as insect resistance, disease resistance, and improved nutritional content.
  • Mustard Hybrid DMH-11: The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) approved the environmental release of Mustard hybrid DMH-11 and its parental lines for seed production and testing. This transgenic mustard variety is awaiting final clearance.

Regulation Process in India

  • Safety Assessments: Transgenic crops go through rigorous safety assessments conducted by committees before they are approved for further testing. These assessments evaluate the potential environmental, health, and socioeconomic impacts of genetically modified crops.
  • Confined Trials: After safety assessments, transgenic crops undergo confined trials in controlled environments. These trials are conducted at agricultural universities or plots controlled by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR). The aim is to assess the performance, agronomic traits, and potential risks associated with transgenic crops.
  • Open Field Trials: Upon successful confined trials, transgenic crops can proceed to open field trials. These trials are conducted over multiple crop seasons and in different geographical regions to evaluate the performance of the crops under diverse environmental conditions.
  • Comparative Evaluation: Transgenic crops can seek commercial clearance only if they demonstrate superiority over comparable non-GM varieties in terms of desired traits, such as resistance to pests, diseases, or drought, without causing harm to the environment or other cultivated species.

Issues in Acceptance of Transgenic Crops

  • Public Perception and Opposition: The acceptance of genetically modified crops continues to be elusive in India due to concerns raised by activists, farmers, and consumer groups regarding the safety, environmental impact, and long-term consequences of GM crops.
  • Legal and Regulatory Framework: The litigation in the Supreme Court regarding the approval and cultivation of transgenic crops adds complexity to the regulatory framework. The decision-making process involves multiple stakeholders, including government agencies, scientists, activists, and judicial authorities.
  • State-Level Approvals: Agriculture being a state subject, companies interested in testing transgenic seeds often require approvals from the respective states. Varying attitudes and policies towards GM crops among states can create challenges and inconsistencies in the regulatory process.
  • Ecological Impact and Biodiversity: Critics argue that the release of transgenic crops into the environment may have unintended ecological consequences, such as the potential harm to non-target organisms, disruption of ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity.
  • Socioeconomic Implications: The adoption of transgenic crops may have socioeconomic implications, including concerns about farmer dependency on seed companies, patenting of genetic materials, and potential impacts on traditional farming practices and indigenous seed varieties.

Way forward

  • Robust Regulation: Strengthen the regulatory framework for transgenic crops to ensure rigorous evaluation, transparent decision-making, and effective monitoring of potential risks to human health, environment, and biodiversity.
  • Public Awareness: Conduct comprehensive campaigns to educate the public about the benefits and safety of transgenic cotton, dispelling misconceptions, and promoting informed decision-making.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Foster open dialogue among farmers, scientists, policymakers, and consumer groups to address concerns, share information, and build mutual understanding.
  • Environmental Monitoring: Implement long-term monitoring programs to assess the impact of transgenic cotton cultivation on factors such as pest resistance, gene flow, and ecological interactions to ensure sustainability.
  • Farmer Training and Support: Provide training programs and technical assistance to farmers, equipping them with proper cultivation practices and effective management strategies for transgenic cotton, maximizing benefits of improved yields and pest control.
  • Socioeconomic Assessments: Conduct comprehensive assessments to evaluate the potential impact of transgenic cotton on farmers’ livelihoods, rural economies, and social well-being, addressing issues of equity, access, and distribution of benefits.
  • Transparent Labelling and Traceability: Implement clear labeling and traceability mechanisms to ensure transparency in marketing and trade of transgenic cotton products, enabling consumers to make informed choices.

Conclusion

  • The GEAC is exploring options to streamline the regulatory process for GM crops.
  • The proposal to declare certain regions as “notified testing sites” aims to provide a standardized framework for conducting trials and minimize the dependency on state-level approvals.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

‘HD 3226’ Wheat can beat the heat

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : HD 3226 wheat variety

Mains level : Not Much

wheat

Scientists at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) have developed a new variety of wheat ‘HD 3226’ that can withstand high temperatures.

HD 3226 Wheat

  • The wheat, known as “HD 3226”, has been developed specifically for cultivation in the northwest region of India, where temperatures can reach up to 42 degrees Celsius.
  • It took 10 years for ICAR to develop this variety.
  • It has been specifically developed for cultivation in the northwest region of India.

Features of HD 3226 Wheat

  • More resilient to heat stress: The HD 3226 wheat variety is reportedly more resilient to heat stress than other varieties of wheat.
  • Higher yields: The HD 3226 wheat variety can produce up to 12-15% higher yields in high-temperature conditions.

Significance

  • The development of this new wheat variety is particularly important given the increasing frequency of heatwaves in the region due to climate change.
  • With rising temperatures, it is becoming more challenging for farmers to grow crops.

Government approval and availability

  • The HD 3226 wheat variety has now been submitted to the Indian government for approval.
  • Once approved, it is expected to be available to farmers in the coming years.

 

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Genetically modified Crops and Transgenic Technology Needs Precautions

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Transgenic technology and its applications

Mains level : Advantages and disadvantages of Genetically modified Crops and Transgenic Technology

Crops

Context

  • The Supreme Court’s Technical Expert Committee and two unanimous reports of multi-party parliamentary standing committees have recommended that genetically modified (GM) Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crops should be banned in India.

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Why transgenic technology is worrisome?

  • Uncontrollable and irreversible: Transgenic technology, unlike other technologies, is uncontrollable and irreversible after environmental release.
  • Self-propagation and proliferation: Living Modified Organisms (LMOs), as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety refers to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), propagate themselves and proliferate.
  • Long term assessment is necessary: This process cannot be reversed. Therefore, any deliberate environmental release has to be only after thorough, independent, peer-reviewed assessment of long-term implications.
  • Precaution is necessary: The precautionary principle is a cornerstone because of the unpredictability and time lag of serious outcomes manifesting in highly complex living systems, and their irreversibility. To draw a parallel, not a single one of 330 invasive species (for example, lantana, parthenium) in India has yet been eliminated, despite estimated damage of Rs 8.3 trillion by just 10 of them!

Reality check on GM crops

  • Less countries adopted GM technology: More than 25 years after their introduction, GM crops are still globally grown in just 29 out of 172 countries. Moreover, 91 per cent of GM crop area continues to be in just five countries (USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India).
  • BT cotton demand is declining: Most countries of Europe and Japan, Israel, Russia, Malaysia etc., do not grow GM crops. In China, a first adopter, Bt cotton area has been declining and non-GM hybrid technology is used for rapeseed/mustard.
  • Heavy focus on two traits only: Only two traits are present in over 85 per cent of GM crops grown herbicide tolerance (HT, where crop plants are modified to withstand large amounts of toxic weed-killing chemicals), and/or insect resistance (pesticidal toxin, usually Bt, is produced inside the plant).

crops

Negative impact of HT crops

  • Damage to ecology: HT crops result in not only ecological damage, but human health impacts for consumers. Like tobacco, once declared safe, the effects take long to manifest.
  • Honey production will be affected: Beekeepers say that HT mustard will affect honey production and contaminated honey will damage exports.
  • Human health will be affected: As regards human health, probable carcinogenicity, neuro-toxicity, reproductive health problems, organ damage etc. have been documented by independent research on GM crops and associated herbicides, once claimed by developers and regulators to be “safe”.
  • Campaign against release of GM crops: Like thousands of doctors in other countries, over 100 eminent Indian doctors have conveyed their concerns asked that no HT food crops be released and the planted GM mustard be uprooted before flowering.

crops

What is the issues vis-e vis DMH-11 Mustard crop?

  • Proponent says Mustard is not a HT crop: It is claimed that DMH-11 is not an HT crop as the use of the Bar gene which confers an herbicide tolerance trait is essentially for the pollination control technology in creating hybrids, and glufosinate herbicide will only be used during seed production.
  • Opponent says it’s a HT crop: The reality is that by virtue of the Bar gene being present in both parental lines, and thereby also in all their hybrid offspring, this GM mustard can withstand application of a toxic weedkiller, glufosinate, including in farmers’ fields.  It should therefore have been assessed as an HT crop.
  • Government failed to prevent illegal use of HT cotton: If governments, for over 10 years, have been aware of the illegal planting of herbicide tolerant cotton and rampant illegal use of glyphosate on such HT cotton, and have been unable or unwilling to stop this, what “regulatory process” will now prevent farmers in search of low-cost weeding options from spraying glufosinate on herbicide tolerant mustard?

What are the observations of SC and parliamentary Committee?

  • Absence of regulatory protocol: The ongoing litigations in the Supreme Court are about serious shortcomings in our regulatory regime. Minutes of meetings of the regulatory body GEAC and the “guidelines and protocols” on the regulator’s website reflect an absence of regulatory protocols for HT crops.
  • Inadequate bio testing: And yet a crop with an HT trait is being released in the environment! The technical expert committee (TEC) appointed by the SC and the unanimous multi-party reports of two parliamentary standing committees have exposed serious lapses and inadequacies in bio-safety testing.
  • Against the release of GM crops: They all advised that herbicide tolerant crops, which GM Mustard is, should not be released in Indian conditions.
  • Government panel recommended the ban: Even the government-nominated experts in the TEC asked for a ban on HT crops. The government, surely, cannot call them unscientific.
  • No independent participant in testing: Testing on GM mustard has been done with test protocols evolved by the crop developer, and most tests were done by the applicant. No independent health expert participated in the committees that looked at GM mustard safety.
  • No biosafety data: To this day, biosafety data of GM mustard has not been posted on the regulator’s website for independent scrutiny.

Crops

Conclusion

  • GM crop transgenic technology comes with mixed baggage. Government must strike the balance between biodiversity concern and welfare of farmers. Outright ban or permission without credible data and scrutiny must be avoided.

Mains Question

Q. What are the worrisome aspects of transgenic technology? What are the observations of Supreme court and parliamentary committee regarding GM crops?

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Analyzing the approval of DMH-11

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GM mustard

Mains level : Herbicide tolerant GM crops and the GM mustard debate

DMH-11

Context

  • Concerns regarding the recent recommendation for approval for the environmental release of genetically engineered (GE) mustard (“DMH-11 hybrid”) in India. The recommendation was made by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).

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What is Dhara Mustard hybrid (DMH-11)?

  • DMH-11 is a hybrid variant of mustard developed by researchers at The Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, at the University of Delhi.
  • It is a hybrid variant that was developed without transgenic technology.
  • DMH-11 is a result of a cross between two varieties: Varuna and Early Heera-2. Such a cross wouldn’t have happened naturally and was done after introducing genes from two soil bacterium called barnase and barstar.
  • The result is DMH-11 (where 11 refers to the number of generations after which desirable traits manifest) that not only has better yield but is also fertile. DMH-11 is a transgenic crop because it uses foreign genes from a different species.

DMH-11

What are the concerns?

  • Not sufficient consideration: The potentially harmful long-term ecological and economic consequences of releasing DMH-11 have not received sufficient consideration.
  • Details of trials not made public: Details of the mandatory trials to ensure food and environmental safety which is a prerequisite before environmental release have not been made public.
  • A long-term assessment is yet to be done: a detailed long-term assessment of the potential social and economic benefits of using DMH-11, vis-à-vis its potential drawbacks, remains to be made. Without minimizing the importance of the last two aspects, the present note is restricted to highlighting the first aspect.

DMH-11

Examining the central Feature of DMH-11 

  • Gene for herbicide resistance (HT): A central feature of DMH-11 is that it carries a gene for herbicide resistance (also termed herbicide tolerance or HT). This fact has not received appropriate consideration.
  • Negatives outcomes: The deployment of herbicide-resistant or HT crops has been accompanied by deleterious outcomes in several places including the US, Australia, and Canada (so-called developed countries) as well as Argentina (a developing country).
  • Consequences of herbicide resistant weeds: The most well-established harmful consequence has been the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds across large tracts of agricultural land, which can spell disaster for the normal crop.

Critical and technical analysis of DMH-11

  • On the use of Basta herbicide: The developers of DMH-11 have stated in their food and environmental safety assessment submission of 2016 that “Although GE mustard hybrid DMH-11 contains the bar gene conferring resistance to the herbicide Basta (phosphinothricin), Basta herbicide is required to be used only by seed producer for hybrid seed production (and) farmers are not required to spray Basta in the hybrid GE DMH-11 for weed control”.
  • Certain conditions placed by GEAC for environmental release of DMH-11:
  • The GEAC in its recommendation made on October 18 for environmental release of DMH-11 has accepted this position and also placed certain conditions for environmental release.
  1. Usage only under control: Usage of any formulation of herbicide is recommended only under controlled and specified conditions exclusively for hybrid seed production.
  2. Requires necessary permission: Usage of any formulation of herbicide is not permitted for cultivation in the farmer’s field under any situation and such use would require the necessary permission as per procedures and protocols of safety assessment of insecticides/herbicides by CIB&RC (Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee).”
  • Knowing the facts GEAC ignoring the reports: In other words, GEAC assumes that farmers will use DMH-11 without adding herbicideeven though they know that it carries a gene for herbicide resistance. It ignores the known fact that there have been numerous recent reports in the Indian media of the illegal use of unapproved herbicide-resistant crops, which has been brought to the notice of the government.
  • Registers usage on a crop-wise basis is not enough: GEAC has considered the possible use of herbicide with DMH-11 merely as a matter of herbicide usage and referred its approval to the CIB&RC, which registers usage of herbicides on a crop-wise basis. It is not enough for GEAC to merely refer it for chemical registration since the CIB&RC is not the competent body for recommending approval of GM crops.
  • HT technology is different from conventional herbicides:
  1. On multiple counts, HT technology is qualitatively different from the conventional use of herbicides.
  2. They include the levels of herbicide used, which is much higher than in conventional use; its effect on the crop which is engineered to be resistant to the herbicide and thereby to tolerate much higher levels of herbicide and its agro-ecological impact including on agricultural biodiversity and insect populations.
  3. The scope of issues connected to use of herbicide with a herbicide-resistant crop places it squarely within the purview of GM regulation (that is, GEAC).

Remarks: Developers Intent may not define how it is likely to be used

  • Notwithstanding the statement of the developers and its implicit acceptance by GEAC, DMH-11 does meet the definition of an HT crop.
  • The answers to two questions show this. Is DMH-11 herbicide tolerant? Yes. Is it a crop? Yes.
  • The intent of the developer on how it is meant to be used does not determine how it is actually likely to be used, especially if that usage appears to confer obvious advantages.
  • HT technology involves the use of a herbicide in far higher amounts than conventional herbicide treatments, high enough to kill all weeds in the field, leaving only the engineered crop to grow. Thereby, it replaces all other weed control measures.

Conclusion

  • HT may be effective for a few years. But basic evolutionary considerations, as well as experience in other countries, shows that it imposes strong selective pressure for resistant weeds to emerge. They invariably do so in the course of time and spread rapidly. HT offers short-term benefits at the cost of long-term sustainability. Long term assessment is necessary before clearing its way.

Mains Question

Q. GM mustard is often in the news recently. Discuss the advantages and raised concerns over the usage of this new hybrid variety.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

PR23: A perennial rice variety developed by China

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PR23

Mains level : Rice for global food security

pr23

Farmers in China are now growing a perennial variety of rice called PR 22 which does not need to be planted every year.

What is PR23?

  • Researchers at the Yunnan University have developed a variety of perennial rice named PR23 by cross-breeding regular annual rice Oryza sativa with a wild perennial variety from Africa.
  • Unlike regular rice which is planted every season, PR23 can yield eight consecutive harvests across four years (as these plants with stronger roots grow back vigorously after each harvest).
  • PR23 yields, reported at 8 tons per hectare, are comparable to regular irrigated rice.
  • But growing it is much cheaper since it requires less labour, seeds and chemical inputs.

Benefits of the variety

  • It can result in remarkable environmental benefits such as soils accumulating close to a ton of organic carbon (per hectare per year) along with increases in water available to plants.
  • It is were preferred by farmers since it saved 58% in labour and 49% in other input costs, over each regrowth cycle.
  • The researchers claim it can transform farming by improving livelihoods, enhancing soil quality and by inspiring research on other grains.
  • The invention could transform rice farming by making it climate-friendly, besides using less of labour and other inputs.

Why is the discovery of the new variety significant?

  • Rice feeds about half of the world, and its farming and consumption are primarily in Asia.
  • Most crops grown today were once perennial, but bred to be annual, short-duration, to make them more productive.
  • Perennial rice could be a transformational innovation if it proves to be economically sustainable.

Significance for India

  • India is the world’s second largest rice producer, after China, and the largest exporter with a 40% share in global trade.
  • It is grown during both summer and winter crop seasons.
  • Perennial rice can reduce the drudgery of annual trans-plantation, a back-breaking task, and generate savings on seeds and other inputs.
  • China’s early success has another lesson for India: to raise investments in public research and agricultural sciences.
  • This can help counter the impact of climate change on food security and rural incomes.

 

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

India’s GM crop revolution and the controversy over GM mustard

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GMO, GM crops, Advantages and Disadvantages.

Mains level : GM mustard debate

GM

Context

  • As soon as the government took the decision to release India’s first genetically-modified (GM) food crop Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11) for “environment release”, some activists approached the Supreme Court to ban it for various reasons. The Supreme Court has ordered the status quo to be maintained till the next hearing on the matter on November 17.

What are Genetically modified organisms (GMO)?

  • Changes in genetic material: GMOs can be defined as organisms (i.e., plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination
  • Transfers of genes: It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between nonrelated species.
  • GM foods: Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods

GM

What is the ironic case of opposition to the GM crops?

  • Opposition to GM is not new: The opposition to GM food crops is not new. There has been a global campaign in this regard by many activists. GM crops have spread around the world since 1996.
  • of countries accepted the use of GM crops: More than 70 countries have accepted the use of GM crops. For instance, by 2019, roughly 190 million hectares were under GM crops, led by corn and soyabean in the US, Brazil, Argentina, and canola (rapeseed/mustard) in Canada, even Bangladesh has marched ahead with Bt brinjal.
  • No concrete evidence of harmful impact: There is ample evidence in support of that with no harmful impact on human or animal health or the environment per se.

India’s journey towards GM crops, specifically “Bt cotton”

  • First GM crop released under Vajpayee government with the slogan of Jai Vigyan:
  • Atal Bihar Vajpayee envisioned that science could transform agriculture
  • India had its first GM crop, Bt cotton, released in 2002 by the Vajpayee government. He extended the original slogan of “jai jawan, jai kisan” (salutation to the soldier and the farmer), given by Lal Bahadur Shastri, to include “jai vigyan” (salutation to science).
  • The case of Historic success of Bt cotton:
  1. Cotton production Increased: With the Bt cotton, Cotton production increased remarkably from a mere 13.6 million bales (1 bale = 170 kg) in 2002-03 to 39.8 million bales in 2013-14. Registered an increase of 192 per cent in just 12 years, ushering the famous “gene revolution”.
  2. Area under Cotton cultivation expanded: The area under cotton cultivation expanded by 56 per cent, of which about 95 per cent is under Bt cotton.
  3. Cotton productivity per hectare increased significantly: Cotton productivity increased from 302 kg per hectare in 2002-03 to 566 kg per hectare in 2013-14, an increase of 76 per cent,
  4. More productivity more income to farmers lead to increase in agri- GDP: The gains to cotton farmers whose incomes increased significantly. For instance, Bt cotton led Gujarat’s “agrarian miracle” of very high (above 8 per cent) annual growth rate in agri-GDP during 2002-03 to 2013-14.
  5. Revived the glory to The Indian cotton in the world market: It made India the second-largest producer after China, and the second-largest exporter after the US, of cotton in the world today.

What are the concerns associated with the cultivation of GM crops?

  • Emergence of Increased pest resistance: Enhanced sucking pest damage in Bt cotton; increase in secondary pests such as mired bugs and Spodoptera; and the emergence of pest resistance.
  • Impact on environment of human health: Environmental and health implications in terms of toxicity and allergenicity that can cause hematotoxin reactions in the human body.
  • Fear of increased mono cropping: Farmers’ exposure to a greater risk of monopoly in the seed business.

GM

What is the controversy and debate associated with GM Mustard?

  • Debate on advantages and impacts: There is a raging debate going on advantages and disadvantages of GMOs. For a long time, further study was requested by farmers, environmentalist on GMO crops.
  • Denial goes against the principle of basic rights of farmers: By not allowing GM mustard or for that matter even Bt brinjal for so long, one is denying the basic rights of farmers who want to increase their incomes.
  • Allow with the sustainable practice with the use of science and technology: The best way to do so is by raising productivity in a sustainable manner. The field trials of GM mustard at different locations showed 25-28 per cent higher yield and better disease resistance compared to indigenous varieties. This can go a long way in augmenting domestic mustard oil supplies and farmers’ incomes.
  • Unnecessary debate after the approval by the scientific body: Dissent is a good sign in any democratic society and forms an essential part of checks and balances. But once the safety tests are done and the scientific body (GEAC) has given the green signal, what is needed is political leadership to keep the decision-making science-based.

GM

Why GM Mustard is important for India?

  • India’s heavy dependence on Imported edible oils: India heavily depends on imported edible oils (55-60 per cent of India’s domestic requirement is imported). A large portion of this about three-four million tonnes every year comes from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the US, etc, which is all from GM technology (in soybean and canola).
  • Import and GM crops are already in our food chain: We eat plenty of our own cotton seed (binola) oil, and about 95 per cent of our cotton is now GM. Cotton seed is also fed to cattle which gives the milk its fat content. Even poultry feed, such as soya and corn, is being imported. So, one thing is clear GM food is already in our food chain, and has been there for quite some time.
  • A chance to emerge as a major export hub: It was expected that India would be at the forefront of the gene revolution and emerge as a major export hub to other Asian and African countries. What the IT revolution has done in computer science, the Bt revolution could have done in agriculture.

Conclusion

  • The agriculture of tomorrow is going to be science-based, and the winners will be those who adopt it and develop it further today. Innovation is the name of the game, and “Jai Anusandhan” is a good slogan given by PM Modi. But it will have meaning only when the government goes ahead with not just GM mustard but also fast-tracks Ht Bt cotton, Bt brinjal, and even GM soya and corn.

Mains Question

Q. What are GM crops? With policy paralysis in the case of GM mustard, India may not be able to keep pace with the success of Bt cotton. Critically analyse.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Green Signal to GM Mustard

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GM Mustard

Mains level : GM crops, advantages and risks associated with it

MustardContext

  • The recent clearance by the government for the release of GM Mustard Hybrid DMH 11 based on the recommendations of GEAC under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is a bold decision in the best interest of our farmers and the nation.

What are Genetically modified organisms (GMO)

  • Changes in genetic material: GMOs can be defined as organisms (i.e., plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination
  • Transfers of genes: It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between nonrelated species.
  • GM foods: Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods
  • GM Mustard: GM mustard crop was introduced, which was later withdrawn. There is a raging debate going on advantages and disadvantages of GMOs. For a long time, further study was requested by farmers, environmentalist on GMO crops.

MustardAdvantages of GM mustard?

  • Benefits to producers and consumers: GM foods are developed and marketed because there is some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer of these foods. This is meant to translate into a product with a lower price, greater benefit (in terms of durability or nutritional value) or both. Initially GM seed developers wanted their products to be accepted by producers and have concentrated on innovations that bring direct benefit to farmers (and food industry generally)
  • Improves crop protection: One of the objectives for developing plants based on GM organisms is to improve crop protection.
  • Insect Resistance: Some GMO foods have been modified to make them more resistant to insects and other pests. This means the amount of pesticide chemicals used on the plants are reduced, so their exposure to dangerous pesticides is also reduced
  • Develops stronger Crop: Another benefit that GM technology is believed to bring about is that crops can be engineered to withstand weather extremes and fluctuations, this means that there will be good quality and sufficient yields even under a poor or severe weather condition
  • Provides Environment Protection: GM crops often requires less time, tools and chemicals, and may help with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and environmental pollution
  • More Nutritious Foods: According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), some GM foods have been engineered to become more nutritious in terms of vitamin or mineral content.
  • More economic benefits: Larger production leading to increased farm income, reduced poverty, low food prices and thus reduced hunger and malnutrition. Besides new food products are also included, diversifying food varieties

What is the risk associated with GMO?

  • Contamination of genes: GMOs contaminate forever. GMOs cross pollinate and their seeds can travel far and wide.
  • Irreversible changes in gene pool: It is impossible to fully clean up our contaminated gene pool.
  • More herbicides in our food: Genetic engineering allows plants to survive high doses of weed killers, resulting in higher herbicide residues in our food.
  • Super weeds and super bugs: GMO crops are creating ‘super weeds’ and ‘super bugs,’ which can only be killed with more toxic poisons.

MustardWhy there was necessity to grant approval for GM Mustard?

  • To meet our current challenges: Over-exploitation of natural resources (soil, water, biodiversity), declining factor productivity, urgency to achieve sustainable development goals, especially ending poverty and hunger, and addressing timely the adverse effects of climate change the best option is scientific innovations and their scaling.
  • The adoption of GM food crops is in our broader national interest: Genetically modified maize, soybean, cotton, tomato and canola are grown across the world and the area currently under GM crops is about 200 m ha. Besides India, these have been grown for many years in the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Australia, Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and China.
  • To meet the existing deficit in edible oils: India is currently importing around 13 million tonnes at a cost of Rs 1.17 lakh crore to the exchequer. Interestingly, of this, 2.0-2.5 mt soybean oil and 1.0-1.5 mt canola oil is already GM. Hence, we are consuming GM oil already, besides, the 1.5 mt of GM cotton oil produced domestically.
  • Associated health benefits: It is scientifically proven that the consumption of refined oil does not allow any protein to enter the human system. Thus, the consumption of GM oil is completely safe from a health point of view.
  • High yields to farmers: A major concern of our farmers is that yields of mustard are low and have stagnated for a long time at around 1,260 kg/ha, much lower than the global average of 2,000 kg/ha. Yields of canola in Canada, China and Australia are almost three times higher than in India since they use GM hybrid technology. Mustard is a very important oilseed crop, grown in 6.0 -7.0 million hectares, mostly in Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. Thus, the government’s decision to allow the production of GM Mustard hybrids will go a long way in increasing our yields, while reducing the use of pesticides.

MustardWhat else needs to be done?

  • Providing enabling environment: The Department of Agriculture (DoA) and ICAR need to move forward fast and provide an enabling environment to test the available seed of Hybrid DMH 11 in the current rabi season.
  • Encourage public-private partnership: This needs to happen on several farmers’ fields in the mustard belt. It must also encourage public-private partnerships to produce quality seeds to cover more area next year.
  • Encouraging further innovation: Also, scientists at ICAR institutes must be encouraged to develop new GM Mustard hybrids on a mission mode. Allowing the production of GM Soybean and GM Maize going forward will also be a positive step, increasing both the productivity and profitability of these crops and doubling farmers’ income.

Conclusion

  • The decision to remove the unscientific ban on GM crops reflects the determination of the government to move towards Atmanirbhar Bharat. It also meets the aspirations of our scientific community and farmers can derive the benefits of innovative technology.

Mains Question

Q. How GM mustard crop are different from conventional crops? What are the benefits and risks of adopting the GM mustard crop?

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

GEAC gives its nod for commercial cultivation of GM mustard yet again

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GM Mustard

Mains level : GM crops for cultivation

mustard

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has yet again cleared the proposal for commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) mustard.

What exactly is GM (Hybridized) Mustard?

  • Hybridization involves crossing two genetically dissimilar plant varieties that can even be from the same species.
  • The first-generation (F1) offspring from such crosses tend to have higher yields than what either parent can individually give.
  • Such hybridization isn’t easy in mustard, as its flowers have both female (pistil) and male (stamen) reproductive organs, making the plants largely self-pollinating.
  • Since the eggs of one plant cannot be fertilised by the pollen grains from another, it limits the scope for developing hybrids.

How has hybridisation been achieved in mustard?

  • This has been done by genetic modification (GM).
  • Scientists at Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) have developed the hybrid mustard DMH-11.
  • It contains two alien genes isolated from a soil bacterium called Bacillus amyloliquefaciens.
  • The first gene (‘barnase’) codes for a protein that impairs pollen production and renders the plant into which it is incorporated male-sterile.
  • This plant is then crossed with a fertile parental line containing, in turn, the second ‘barstar’ gene that blocks the action of the barnase gene.
  • The resultant F1 progeny is both high-yielding and also capable of producing seed/ grain, thanks to the barstar gene in the second fertile line.

How did researchers achieve this?

  • The CGMCP scientists have deployed the barnase-barstar GM technology to create what they say is a robust and viable hybridisation system in mustard.
  • This system was used to develop DMH-11 by crossing a popular Indian mustard variety ‘Varuna’ (the barnase line) with an East European ‘Early Heera-2’ mutant (barstar).
  • DMH-11 is claimed to have shown an average 28% yield increase over Varuna in contained field trials carried out by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

What has GEAC now done?

  • GEAC has recommended the environmental release of DMH-11 for its seed production and testing prior to commercial release.
  • In other words, it has given the green signal for commercial cultivation by farmers, with production of seed material being the first step.
  • This move was earlier vetoed in 2016 by Environment Ministry.

Why did it take so long for GEAC to clear?

  • There has been opposition to GM crops in general, from assorted green groups.
  • Major concern is the presence of a third ‘bar’ gene, which makes GM mustard plants tolerant to the spraying of glufosinate ammonium, a chemical used for killing weeds.
  • This, the opponents allege will cause displacement of manual labour engaged in weeding by promoting use of chemical herbicides.
  • Another concern is over GM mustard threatening or undermining the population of honey bees.
  • Mustard flowers are a source of nectar for honey bees and many other pollinator insects.

Try this PYQ:

Q.With reference to the Genetically Modified mustard (GM mustard) developed in India, consider the following statements:

  1. GM mustard has the genes of a soil bacterium that give the plant the property of pest-resistance to a wide variety of pests.
  2. GM mustard has the genes that allow the plant cross-pollination and hybridization.
  3. GM mustard has been developed jointly by the IARI and Punjab Agricultural University.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

 

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Back2Basics: Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)

  • The GEAC is a statutory body notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • It was formed as the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee and was renamed to its current name in 2010.
  • It functions under the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change.
  • The body regulates the use, manufacture, storage, import, and export of hazardous microorganisms or genetically-engineered organisms and cells in India.

 

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Five new varieties to expand India’s Basmati platter

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Basmati Rice

Mains level : Not Much

basmati

Five new Basmati varieties, developed by a group of scientists from Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI), in 2020 and 2021 are all set to bring revolutionary changes in the way this type of paddy is cultivated in the country.

About Basmati Rice

  • Basmati, pronounced is a variety of long, slender-grained aromatic rice which is traditionally grown in India, Pakistan, and Nepal.
  • As of 2019, India accounted for 65% of the international trade in basmati rice, while Pakistan accounted for the remaining 35%.
  • Many countries use domestically grown basmati rice crops; however, basmati is geographically exclusive to certain districts of India and Pakistan.
  • India accounts for over 70% of the world’s basmati rice production.
  • The areas which have a geographical indication are in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Western Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir

Export potential of Basmati

  • Basmati rice has a market abroad and brings about ₹30,000 crore in foreign exchange every year.
  • While 75% of the export is to West Asian countries, European Union countries also import Indian Basmati.
  • However, recently, the export to EU countries faced certain hurdles due to the increase in the pesticide residue levels in the rice from India.

 

 

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Researchers found gene regulating Nitrogen absorption in Plant

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MADS27

Mains level : Not Much

Researchers led by those from the National Centre of Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bengaluru (NCBS-TIFR), have found a new pathway that regulates nitrate absorption in plants.

Nitrogen in plant nutrition

  • Nitrogen is one of the most important macronutrients needed for development of a plant.
  • It is a part of chlorophyll, amino acids and nucleic acids, among others.
  • It is mostly sourced from the soil where it is mainly absorbed in the form of nitrates and ammonium by the roots.
  • Nitrates also play a role in controlling genome-wide gene expression that in turn regulates root system architecture, flowering time, leaf development, etc.
  • Thus, while a lot of action takes place in the roots to absorb and convert nitrogen into useful nitrates, the absorbed nitrates in turn regulate plant development apart from being useful as a macronutrient.

What is MADS27?

  • The gene MADS27, which regulates nitrate absorption, root development and stress tolerance, is activated by the micro-RNA, miR444, therefore offers a way to control these properties of the plant.
  • The researchers studied this mechanism in both rice (monocot) and tobacco (dicot) plants.

Regulatory switches

  • In addition to this route, several gene regulatory switches that regulate nitrate absorption and root development, such as the micro-RNA, miR444, are known in monocot plants, such as rice.
  • The micro-RNA ‘miR444’ is specific to monocots.
  • When this is not made, its target, MADS27, is produced in higher abundance, and it improves biosynthesis and transport of the hormone auxin, which is key for root development and its branching.
  • This regulatory miR444 switch is known to turn off at least five genes called MADS box transcription factor genes.
  • The speciality of the MADS box transcription factors is that they function like switch boxes of their own.
  • They bind to their favourite specific DNA sequences and they switch the neighbouring genes “on.”

Why is the discovery important?

  • Presence of nitrates is important for the plant development and also for grain production.
  • However, the overuse of nitrates in fertilizers, for instance, can lead to the dumping of nitrates in the soil which leads to accumulation of nitrates in water and soil.
  • This accumulation adds to soil and water pollution and increased contribution to greenhouse gases.
  • Also, since the whole process of nitrate absorption takes place in the roots, a well-developed root system is needed for this to take place optimally.
  • At one level, it is known that the hormone auxin is responsible for well-developed roots across all plants.
  • A number of genes are known to help with auxin production, improved nitrate transport and assimilation in plants.

Significance of MADS27

  • The MADS27 transcription factor has a three-pronged effect on the plant.
  • First, it regulates nitrate absorption by switching “on” proteins involved in this process.
  • Second, it leads to better development of the roots by regulating auxin hormone production and transport.
  • Finally, and somewhat surprisingly to the researchers, it helps in the abiotic stress tolerance by keeping the main stress player proteins “on.”

 

 

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Norms eased for GM Crop Research

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GEAC, SDN

Mains level : Read the attached story

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has issued guidelines easing norms for research into genetically modified (GM) crops and circumventing challenges of using foreign genes to change crops profile.

Guidelines for Safety Assessment of Genome Edited Plants, 2022: Key Highlights

  • It exempt researchers who use gene-editing technology to modify the genome of the plant from seeking approvals from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
  • The environment ministry in March 2022 exempted SDN 1 and SDN 2 genomes from Rules 7-11 of the Environment Protection Act.
  • Conventional breeding technique takes 8- 10 years for development of new crop varieties; genome-editing can do this faster.
  • The Environment Ministry too has sanctioned this exemption.

What are the SDNs?

The genome edited plants derived from the use of genome editing techniques employing site- directed nucleases (SDNs) such ZFNs, TALENs, CRISPR and other nucleases with similar functions are generally classified under three categories as

  1. Site-Directed Nuclease (SDN)-1, a site-directed mutagenesis without using a DNA sequence template;
  2. SDN-2, a site-directed mutagenesis using a DNA sequence template; and
  3. SDN-3, site-directed insertion of gene/large DNA sequence using a DNA sequence template.

What are GM crops?

  • The GM plants involve transgenic technology or introducing a gene from a different species into a plant, for instance BT-cotton, where a gene from soil bacterium is used to protect a plant from pest attack.
  • The worry around this method is that these genes may spread to neighboring plants, where such effects are not intended and so their applications have been controversial.
  • Genome editing involves the use of technologies that allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome. Several approaches to genome editing have been developed.
  • A well-known one is called CRISPR-Cas9, which is short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and CRISPR-associated protein 9.

Try this PYQ:

Q.The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee is constituted under the:

(a) Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006

(b) Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999

(c) Environment (Protection) Act, 1986

(d) Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972

 

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About Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)

  • The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is a statutory body conotified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • It was formed as the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee and was renamed to its current name in 2010.
  • It functions under the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change.
  • The body regulates the use, manufacture, storage, import and export of hazardous microorganisms or genetically-engineered organisms and cells in India.

 

 

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

What are Non-Transgenic Gene Editing techniques?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Non-Transgenic Gene Editing

Mains level : Hazards of using GMO crops

The Centre is yet to decide on a research proposal from scientists which would allow plants to be genetically modified without the need for conventional transgenic technology.

What is Genome Editing?

  • Genome editing (also called gene editing) is a group of technologies that give scientists the ability to change an organism’s DNA.
  • These technologies allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome.
  • Several approaches to genome editing have been developed.

Techs for Genome Editing

The core technologies now most commonly used to facilitate genome editing are

  1. Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)- associated protein 9 (Cas9)
  2. Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs)
  3. Zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs)
  4. Homing endonucleases or meganucleases

Newer technologies

  • The Institute has now moved to newer technologies such as Site-Directed Nuclease (SDN) 1 and 2.
  • They aim to bring precision and efficiency into the breeding process using gene-editing tools such as CRISPR, whose developers won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2020.

About CRISPR

  • CRISPR-Cas9 was adapted from a naturally occurring genome editing system in bacteria.
  • The bacteria capture snippets of DNA from invading viruses and use them to create DNA segments known as CRISPR arrays.
  • The CRISPR arrays allow the bacteria to “remember” the viruses (or closely related ones).
  • If the viruses attack again, the bacteria produce RNA segments from the CRISPR arrays to target the viruses’ DNA.
  • The bacteria then use Cas9 or a similar enzyme to cut the virus DNA apart, which disables the virus.
  • This method is faster, cheaper, more accurate, and more efficient than other existing genome editing methods.

What is Non-Transgenic Gene Editing?

  • Unlike the older GM technology which involves the introduction of foreign DNA, the new proposal involves the use of gene editing tools to directly tweak the plant’s own genes instead.
  • It does not involve inserting any foreign DNA.

Use in India

  • Scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) are in the process of developing resilient and high-yield rice varieties using such gene editing techniques.
  • However, this proposal has been pending with the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for almost two years.

Why need such technique?

  • Similar to natural mutation: But in this case, this protein is right there in the plant, and is being changed a little bit, just as nature does through mutation.
  • Faster and cheaper: It is much faster and far more precise than natural mutation or conventional breeding methods which involve trial and error and multiple breeding cycles.
  • Safe for consumption: When a protein comes from an outside organism, then you need to test for safety.
  • Pathbreaking: It is potentially a new Green Revolution.

No approval issues

  • The SDN 1 and SDN 2 categories of genome-edited plants do not contain any foreign DNA when they are taken to the open field trials.
  • The US, Canada, Australia and Japan are among the countries which have already approved the SDN 1 and 2 technologies as not akin to GM.
  • So, such varieties of rice can be exported without any problem.
  • The European Food Safety Authority has also submitted its opinion that these technologies do not need the same level of safety assessment as conventional GM.

 

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EU food recalled over alleged GM rice exports from India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GM crops in India

Mains level : Issues with GM crops

The European Union has recalled some packaged food items which were made up of Indian GMO.

GM crops in India

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under Environment Ministry oversees the approval of GM Crops in India.

  • Bt cotton: It is the only GM crop that has been approved for commercial cultivation in 2002.
  • Bt Brinjal: Resistant to brinjal shoot fly, it was approved by GEAC in 2009. However due to 10 years moratorium imposed on GM crops by the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court of India, its commercialization has stalled.
  • GM Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11: DMH 11 developed by Delhi University is pending for commercial release as GEAC has advised to generate complete safety assessment.

However, unauthorized HtBt Cotton and Bt Brinjal are being grown commercially, with hundreds of growers blatantly defying the governmental ban.

What about GM Rice?

  • GM rice is not grown commercially in India.
  • However, multiple GM rice varieties have been approved for confined field trials.
  • There seems a possibility of cross-contamination from such field trials directly or through seed leakages.

India’s rice exports

  • India’s annual rice exports amount to 18 million tonnes worth ₹65,000 crore, and reach more than 75 countries.

What is the EU move?

  • A European candy has recalled several batches of its product from the market due to the use of rice flour with genetically modified (GM) contamination that allegedly originated in India.
  • The EU notification has identified the product as ‘Unauthorised genetically modified (p35S and tNos) rice flour from India’.

Impact of the EU move

  • This has led to the loss of reputation of India and its agricultural market.
  • With such a move by the EU, it is Indian farmers and exporters who have much to lose.

Threats posed by GM crops

  • It is believed that consumption of genetically engineered foods can cause the development of diseases which are immune to antibiotics.
  • Besides, as these foods are new inventions, not much is known about their long term effects on human beings.
  • Genetically modified rice may potentially cause serious public health and environmental problems.
  • Two major issues about GM rice are their tendencies to provoke allergic reactions and the uncertainty of gene transfers.

What can be done to reverse this?

  • Ban on field trials of GM crops
  • Slapping liability for illegal release of GMOs into the environment on developers
  • Probe to identify the source of the GM rice contamination

Try answering this PYQ:

With reference to the Genetically Modified mustard (GM mustard) developed in India, consider the following statements:

  1. GM mustard has the genes of a soil bacterium that give the plant the property of pest-resistance to a wide variety of pests.
  2. GM mustard has the genes that allow the plant cross-pollination and hybridization.
  3. GM mustard has been developed jointly by the IARI and Punjab Agricultural University.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

 

Post your answers here.
6
Please leave a feedback on thisx

 

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

[pib] Crop varieties with special traits

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Crop Varieties with Special Traits

Mains level : GM Crops

In an endeavor to create mass awareness for adoption of climate resilient technologies,  PM will dedicate 35 crop varieties with special traits to the Nation.

About Crop Varieties with Special Traits

  • The crop varieties with special traits have been developed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to address the twin challenges of climate change and malnutrition.
  • Thirty-five such crop varieties with special traits like climate resilience and higher nutrient content have been developed in the year 2021.
  • These special traits crop varieties also include those that address the anti-nutritional factors found in some crops that adversely affect human and animal health.

Which are these varieties?

  • Drought tolerant variety of chickpea
  • Wilt and sterility mosaic resistant pigeonpea
  • Early maturing variety of soybean
  • Disease resistant varieties of rice
  • Biofortified varieties of wheat, pearl millet, maize and chickpea, quinoa, buckwheat, winged bean and faba bean
  • Pusa Double Zero Mustard 33
  • Canola quality hybrid RCH 1 with <2% erucic acid and <30 ppm glucosinolates and
  • Soybean variety free from two anti-nutritional factors namely Kunitz trypsin inhibitor and lipoxygenase.

Try answering the PYQ:

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee is constituted under the:

(a) Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006

(b) Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999

(c) Environment (Protection) Act, 1986

(d) Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972

 

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First-ever genetically modified rubber planted in Assam

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : First-ever genetically modified rubber planted in Assam

Mains level : Hazards of using GMO crops

A Rubber Board research farm on the outskirts of Guwahati now sports the world’s first genetically modified (GM) rubber plant tailored for the climatic conditions in the Northeast.

GM rubber

  • The GM rubber has additional copies of the gene MnSOD, or manganese-containing superoxide dismutase, inserted in the plant.
  • The plant was developed at the Kerala-based Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII).
  • It is expected to tide over the severe cold conditions during winter — a major factor affecting the growth of young rubber plants in the region.

Why need GM rubber?

  • Natural rubber is a native of warm humid Amazon forests and is not naturally suited for the colder conditions in the Northeast, which is one of the largest producers of rubber in India.
  • Growth of young rubber plants remains suspended during the winter months, which are also characterized by progressive drying of the soil.
  • This is the reason for the long immaturity period of this crop in the region.

What does MnSOD gene offer?

  • The MnSOD gene has the ability to protect plants from the adverse effects of severe environmental stresses such as cold and drought.
  • Laboratory studies conducted at the RRII showed the GM rubber plants overexpressed the MnSOD gene as expected, offering protection to the cells.
  • The plant is thus expected to establish well and grow fast in the region.
  • There was no risk of genes flowing from the GM rubber into any other native species, a concern often raised by environmental groups against GM plants in general.

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BT Cotton adoption in Punjab has resulted in net economic, environmental benefits

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GMO, BT

Mains level : Hazards of using GMO crops

Amid the perpetual debate surrounding BT cotton’s positive and negative impacts, a recent study has said its adoption in Punjab in the past over a decade has resulted in net economic and environmental benefits.

Background

  • BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton has been commercially grown in India for the past 19 years.
  • The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved the release of BT cotton for commercial cultivation in 2002 in western and southern parts of the country.
  • In Punjab, BT cotton was released for cultivation in 2005.
  • Before the release, it was adopted by 72% farmers on 22% of the cotton area. However, a lot of questions have been raised recently on its impact.

BT cotton in India

  • BT cotton is a genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically modified pest resistant plant cotton variety, which produces an insecticide to combat bollworm.
  • Strains of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis produce over 200 different BT toxins, each harmful to different insects.
  • Most notably, BT toxins are insecticidal to the larvae of moths and butterflies, beetles, cotton bollworms and flies but are harmless to other forms of life.
  • In 2002, a joint venture between Monsanto and Mahyco introduced BT cotton to India.
  • In 2011, India grew the largest GM cotton crop at 10.6 million hectares.

Issues with BT cotton

  • In India, BT cotton has been enveloped in controversies due to its supposed failure to reduce the need for pesticides and increase yield.
  • The link between the introduction of BT cotton to India and a surge in farmer suicides has been refuted by other studies with decreased farmer suicides since BT cotton was introduced.
  • BT cotton accounts for 93% of cotton grown in India.
  • Maharashtra banned the sale and distribution of BT cotton in 2012, to promote local Indian seeds, which demand less water, fertilizers and pesticide input.

What is the new study about?

Success of BT in Punjab

  • The research was funded by the Agricultural Extension Division of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research under extramural project “Impact evaluation of integrated pest management technologies”.
  • It found that since the commercialization of BT cotton:
  1. there has been reduction in insecticide use by volume and applications,
  2. decline in environmental and human health impact associated with insecticide use,
  3. more reduction in the use of highly hazardous and riskiest insecticides, and
  4. reduction in the expenses associated with insecticide use.
  5. Cotton yields in the past 13 years have been stable, the only exception being 2015

Now its’ time to answer this PYQ in the comment box:

Q.In India, the use of carbofuran, methyl parathion, phorate and triazophos is viewed with apprehension. These chemicals are used as: (CSP 2017)

(a) Pesticides in agriculture

(b) Preservatives in processed foods

(c) Fruit-ripening agents

(d) Moisturizing agents in cosmetics

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[pib] Sadabahar: A mango variety that bears fruits round the year

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sadabahar mango

Mains level : GMO crops

A farmer from Kota, Rajasthan, has developed a round-the-year dwarf variety of mango called Sadabahar, which is resistant to most major diseases and common mango disorders.

Try this PYQ:

Q.With reference to the Genetically Modified mustard (GM mustard) developed in India, consider the following statements:

  1. GM mustard has the genes of a soil bacterium that give the plant the property of pest-resistance to a wide variety of pests.
  2. GM mustard has the genes that allow the plant cross-pollination and hybridization.
  3. GM mustard has been developed jointly by the IARI and Punjab Agricultural University.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (CSP 2018)

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Sadabahar

  • The fruit is sweeter in taste, comparable to langra and being a dwarf variety, is suitable for kitchen gardening, high-density plantation, and can be grown in pots for some years too.
  • Besides, the flesh of the fruits, which is bourn round the year, is deep orange with a sweet taste, and the pulp has very little fiber content which differentiates it from other varieties.
  • The bountiful nutrients packed in mango are immensely good for health.
  • This variety has been verified by the National Innovation Foundation (NIF), India, an autonomous institution of the Department of Science & Technology.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

[pib] Glycemic Index in Rice

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Indigenious varities of rice mentioned

Mains level : Not Much

The Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has provided some useful information about some indigenous varieties of rice.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2018:

Q.With reference to the Genetically Modified mustard (GM mustard) developed in India, consider the following statements:

  1. GM mustard has the genes of a soil bacterium that give the plant the property of pest-resistance to a wide variety of pests.
  2. GM mustard has the genes that allow the plant cross-pollination and hybridization.
  3. GM mustard has been developed jointly by the IARI and Punjab Agricultural University.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Indigenous varieties of rice

  • Indigenous varieties of rice are being promoted through varieties of programmes.
  • 574 indigenous varieties of rice have been propagated and tested at more than 10,000 farmers’ fields.
  • Nutritional profiling of 300 selected rice varieties has been done for market linkage and better price to the farmers.
  • Farmers are also being trained on conservation, improvement and use of traditional/ indigenous varieties through participatory variety selection.
  • Further, for access to seeds of these indigenous varieties, community seed banks have been established.

Key varieties

  • Lalat and Improved Lalat (GI value: 54) as Low GI
  • Swarna, Sambha Mahsuri and Shaktiman (GI value <60) as intermediate GI have been identified

There is no certification for GI (Glycemic Index) in rice in India.

What is Glycemic Index (GI)?

  • GI is a number from 0 to 100 assigned to food, with pure glucose arbitrarily given the value of 100, which represents the relative rise in the blood glucose level two hours after consuming that food.
  • The GI of a specific food depends primarily on the quantity and type of carbohydrate it contains.
  • But it is also affected by the amount of entrapment of the carbohydrate molecules within the food, the fat and protein content of the food, the number of organic acids (or their salts) in the food, and whether it is cooked and, if so, how it is cooked.
  • A food is considered to have a low GI if it is 55 or less; high GI if 70 or more, and mid-range GI if 56 to 69.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

IISER scientists identify the gene that greens plants

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BBX11 gene

Mains level : Genetics and its applications

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) have identified a gene that facilitates in the greening of plants.

It would be no surprise to expect a core Biology question in the coming years, if we look at this PYQ:

Q. Which of the following statements are correct regarding the general difference between plant cells and animal cells? (CSP 2020)

  1. Plant cells have cellulose cell walls whilst animal cells do not.
  2. Plant cells do not have plasma membrane unlike animals cells which do
  3. Mature plant cell has one large vacuole whilst animal cell has many small vacuoles

Select the correct answer using the given code below-

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

BBX11

  • The synthesis of chlorophyll in plants is a lengthy, multi-step process.
  • When a seedling emerges from under the soil it must quickly synthesize chlorophyll to start supporting its own growth.
  • In order to facilitate the quick synthesis of chlorophyll, plants make a precursor of chlorophyll called ‘protochlorophyllide’ in the dark, which glows red when blue light is shone on the plant.
  • As soon as the plant comes out into the light from under the soil, light-dependent enzymes convert protochlorophyllide to chlorophyll.
  • The two proteins oppositely regulate the ‘BBX11’ gene to maintain optimum levels of ‘BBX11’.

How does it work?

  • It plays a crucial role in regulating the levels of protochlorophyllide — an intermediate in the biosynthesis of the green pigment chlorophyll.
  • The amount of protochlorophyllide synthesized needed to be proportional to the number of enzymes available to convert them to chlorophyll.
  • If there is an excess of free protochlorophyllide, then exposure to light converts it into molecules that cause ‘photobleaching’.
  • Thus, it is very important to regulate the amount of protochlorophyllide synthesized by the plant and here comes the vital plant played by the ‘BBX11’ gene.
  • If it is less, plants are unable to efficiently ‘green’ in order to harvest sunlight.

Benefits of the research

  • The study could have tremendous implications in the agriculture sector in tropical countries like India and can help provide leads to optimize plant growth under stressful and rapidly changing climatic conditions.
  • Due to the rapidly changing climatic conditions, farmers in several states in India, especially in Maharashtra, are suffering huge losses in crop yields.
  • This often leads to severe distress among the farming community as indicated by the high number of farmer suicides in Maharashtra for the past several years.
  • Severe drought, high temperature and high light are some of the major reasons for crop failure. Young seedlings emerging out of the soil are extremely sensitive to high irradiance of light.
  • This study can provide leads to optimize plant growth under these stressful conditions.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

GM seeds: the debate, and a sowing agitation

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GM crops, BT

Mains level : Issues over GM crops

In the current Kharif season, farmers would undertake mass sowing of GM seeds for maize, soybean, mustard brinjal and herbicide-tolerant (Ht) cotton, although these are not approved. Farmers had carried out a similar movement last year, too.

Practice question for mains:

Q. Indian agriculture is in a way, a victim of its own past success – especially the green revolution. Critically comment.

Genetically Modified (GM) seeds

  • Conventional plant breeding involves crossing species of the same genus to provide the offspring with the desired traits of both parents.
  • Genetic engineering aims to transcend the genus barrier by introducing an alien gene in the seeds to get the desired effects.
  • The alien gene could be from a plant, an animal or even a soil bacterium.

What is the legal position of GM crops in India?

  • In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for the commercial release of GM crops.
  • In 2002, the GEAC had allowed the commercial release of Bt cotton.
  • More than 95 per cent of the country’s cotton area has since then come under Bt cotton.
  • Use of the unapproved GM variant can attract a jail term of 5 years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh under the Environmental Protection Act,1989.

GM crops in India

  • Bt cotton, the only GM crop that is allowed in India, has two alien genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) that allows the crop to develop a protein toxic to the common pest pink bollworm.
  • Ht Bt, on the other, cotton is derived with the insertion of an additional gene, from another soil bacterium, which allows the plant to resist the common herbicide glyphosate.
  • In Bt brinjal, a gene allows the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borer.

Why are farmers rooting for GM crops?

  • In the case of cotton, farmers cite the high cost of weeding, which goes down considerably if they grow Ht Bt cotton and use glyphosate against weeds.
  • Brinjal growers in Haryana have rooted for Bt brinjal as it reduces the cost of production by cutting down on the use of pesticides.
  • Industry estimates say that of the 4-4.5 crore packets (each weighing 400 gm) of cotton sold in the country, 50 lakh are of the unapproved Ht Bt cotton.
  • Haryana has reported farmers growing Bt brinjal in pockets which had caused a major agitation there.

Why furore over GM crops?

  • Environmentalists argue that the long-lasting effect of GM crops is yet to be studied and thus they should not be released commercially.
  • The genetic modification brings about changes that can be harmful to humans in the long run.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

[pib] Alternative Dwarfing Genes in Wheat

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rht14 and Rht18

Mains level : Alternatives to stubble burning

Scientists at Pune based Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology has mapped two dwarfing genes Rht14 and Rht18 in wheat that can reduce stubble volume.

Note: One may wonder why the name of research institution has not been skipped here!

Q. With reference to the Genetically Modified mustard (GM mustard) developed in India, consider the following statements:

  1. GM mustard has the genes of a soil bacterium that give the plant the property of pest-resistance to a wide variety of pests.
  2. GM mustard has the genes that allow the plant cross-pollination and hybridization.
  3. GM mustard has been developed jointly by the IARI and Punjab Agricultural University.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (CSP 2018)

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Rht14 and Rht18

  • The researchers have mapped the dwarfing genes on chromosome 6A in durum wheat, and DNA-based markers were developed for a better selection of these genes in wheat breeding lines.
  • These genes are associated with better seedling vigour and longer coleoptiles (sheath protecting the young shoot tip).
  • These DNA based markers are being used at ARI for marker-assisted transfer of these genes in Indian wheat varieties, so as to make them suitable for sowing under rice stubble-retained conditions and dry environments.
  • Wheat lines with these alternative dwarfing genes, apart from reducing crop residue burning, can allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil under dry environments.
  • Wheat lines with these alternative dwarfing genes, apart from reducing crop residue burning, can allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil under dry environments.

Significance

  • In India, close to twenty-three million tonnes of leftover rice residues are annually burnt by farmers to get rid of the straw and prepare their fields for sowing wheat, which is the next crop, resulting in air pollution.
  • Burning of leftover rice crop residue has serious implications for the environment, soil, and human health.
  • Therefore, there is a need to include alternative dwarfing genes in wheat improvement programs.
  • The dwarfing genes Rht14 and Rht18 in wheat conferred a plant height reduction comparable to the Rht1 alleles while retaining early vigour in wheat seedlings, but do not affect coleoptile length and seedling shoot length.
  • These can, therefore, be utilized as an alternative dwarfing gene to Rht1 for deep sowing conditions or in fields with retained stubble.
  • The improved wheat lines which are being developed at ARI will help reducing stubble burning incidences under the rice-wheat cropping system.
  • These lines will also allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil, therefore, saving valuable water resources and reduce the cost of cultivation to farmers.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

[pib] Biofortified Carrot ‘Madhuban Gajar’

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Madhuban Gajar

Mains level : Bio-fortification and its benefits

 

Madhuban Gajar

  • It is a biofortified carrot variety with high β-carotene and iron content developed by Shri Vallabhhai Vasrambhai Marvaniya, a farmer scientist from Junagadh district, Gujarat.
  • The variety is being cultivated in more than 1000 hectares of land in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh during the last three years.
  • It is a highly nutritious carrot variety developed through the selection method with higher β-carotene content (277.75 mg/kg) and iron content (276.7 mg/kg) dry basis.
  • It is used for various value-added products like carrot chips, juices, and pickles.
  • This carrot variety possesses a significantly higher root yield (74.2 t/ha) and plant biomass (275 gm per plant) as compared to check variety.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Sahyadri Megha

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sahyadri Megha

Mains level : Not Much

The University of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences (UAHS), Shivamogga (K’taka) has developed ‘Sahyadri Megha’, a new red variety of paddy that is resistant to blast (a fungal disease) and rich in nutrients.

Sahyadri Megha

  • It is a red variety of paddy that is resistant to blast disease and rich in nutrients.
  • It was developed under the hybridization breeding method by cross-breeding the best among the ‘Jyothi’ variety with that of ‘Akkalu’, a disease-resistant and protein-rich paddy variety.
  • The new variety will be notified under the Indian Seed Act 1966 shortly after which it will become part of the seed chain.

Key features

  • The protein content in it is 12.48%, higher than the other red rice varieties grown.
  • The yield per hectare from ‘Sahyadri Megha’ is around 65 quintals, substantially higher than other red paddy varieties.
  • It is a medium-term paddy that can be grown when there is a delay in the onset of monsoon. It can be harvested after 120 days of sowing.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

Yellow Rust

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Yellow rust, Pusa Yashasvi

Mains level : Not Much

 

Yellow Rust was detected in wheat crops in parts of Punjab and Haryana.

Yellow Rust

  • Yellow Rust disease appears as yellow stripes of powder or dust on leaves and leaf sheaths of the wheat crop. This yellow powder comes out on clothing or fingers when touched.
  • This occurs when the rust colonies in the leaves drain the carbohydrates from the plant and reduce the green leaf area.
  • In India, it is a major disease in the Northern Hill Zone and the North-Western Plain Zone and spreads easily during the onset of cool weather and when wind conditions are favourable.
  • Rain, dew and fog favour the disease’s development.

Impact of the disease

  • The disease can spread rapidly under congenial conditions and affects crop development, and eventually the yield.
  • Yield due to the disease can affected by between 5 and 30 per cent.
  • According to the IIWBR advisory, if farmers observe yellow rust in patches in their wheat fields, they should spray fungicides.

Other facts: Pusa Yashasvi

  • Last year, a new variety of wheat called HD-3226 or Pusa Yashasvi was released by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.
  • It had higher levels of resistance against major rust fungi such as the yellow/stripe, brown/leaf and black/stem.

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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

[op-ed of the day] The flawed spin to India’s cotton story

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3-Introduction of Bt cotton, and various cropping patterns

Context

This year, India is expected to be the world’s largest cotton producer, surpassing China in output. However, India’s productivity (yield per unit area), is much lower than other major cotton-producing countries.

India’s experience with cotton

  • India is the only country growing hybrids: India is the only country that grows cotton as hybrids and the first to develop hybrid cotton back in 1970.
    • What are hybrids: Hybrids are made by crossing two parent strains having different genetic characters.
    • Greater yields: These plants have more biomass than both parents, and capacity for greater yields.
    • Require more inputs: They also require more inputs, including fertilizer and water.
    • Expensive seed production: Though hybrid cottonseed production is expensive, requiring manual crossing, India’s low cost of manual labour makes it economically viable.
    • Rest of the countries: All other cotton-producing countries grow cotton, not as hybrids but varieties for which seeds are produced by self-fertilization.
  • Key issues with the use of hybrids
    • Hybrid seed cannot be propagated over generations: A key difference between hybrids and varieties is that varieties can be propagated over successive generations by collecting seeds from one planting and using them for the next planting.
    • Purchasing the seeds is must: Hybrid seeds have to be remade for each planting by crossing the parents. So for hybrids, farmers must purchase seed for each planting, but not for varieties.
    • Pricing control to the companies: Using hybrids gives pricing control to the seed company and also ensures a continuous market.
    • Increased yield used as justification for high prices: Increased yield from a hybrid is supposed to justify the high cost of hybrid seeds.
    • However, for cotton, a different strategy using high-density planting (HDP) of compact varieties has been found to outperform hybrids at the field level.

Cotton planting strategies

  • What other countries do?
    • Compact and short-duration varieties: For over three decades, most countries have been growing cotton varieties that are compact and short duration.
    • 5kg seeds/acre: These varieties are planted at high density (5 kg seeds/acre).
    • These varieties have 5-10 bolls per plant.
  • What is done in India?
    • Low density and long duration: Hybrids in India are bushy, long duration and planted at a ten-fold lower density.
    • 0.5 kg seeds/acre: Hybrids are planted at a lower density of 0.5kg/acre.
  • Which strategy is more beneficial?
    • The lower boll production by compact varieties (5-10 bolls per plant) compared to hybrids (20-100 bolls/plant) is more than compensated by the ten-fold greater planting density.
    • Experience of Brazil: The steep increase in productivity for Brazil, from 400 to 1,000 kg/hectare lint between 1994 and 2000 coincides with the large-scale shift to a non-GM compact variety.

Why should India opt for short duration variety?

  • Cotton being a dryland crop: Cotton is a dryland crop and 65% of the area under cotton in India is rain-fed.
    • Advantage of short duration variety in the rain-fed area: Farmers with insufficient access to groundwater in these areas are entirely dependent on rain. Here, the shorter duration variety has a major advantage as it reduces dependence on irrigation and risk.
    • Particularly late in the growing season when soil moisture drops following the monsoon’s withdrawal.
    • This period is when bolls develop and water requirement is the highest.
  • Productivity and input costs of the varieties: It has more than twice the productivity.
    • Half the fertilizer (200 kg/ha for hybrids versus 100 kg/ha for varieties).
    • Reduced water requirement.
    • And less vulnerability to damage from insect pests due to a shorter field duration.

Impact of Policy

  • Why India persisted with hybrids during 1980-2002
    • Two phases of policy have contributed to this situation.
    • The first phase- Before GM cotton: The answers lie with the agricultural research establishment.
    • The second phase: The phase where the question of hybrids versus compact varieties could have been considered, was at the stage of GM regulation when Bt cotton was being evaluated for introduction into India.
    • International experience not taken into account: It would not have been out of place to have evaluated the international experience, including the context of the introduction of this new technology.
    • Agro-economic conditions were not taken into account: Importantly, agro-economic conditions where it would be used should have been a guiding factor.
    • The narrow scope of evaluation: The scope of evaluation by the GM regulatory process in India was narrow, and did not take this into account.
    • Consequently, commercial Bt hybrids have completely taken over the market, accompanied by the withdrawal of public sector cottonseed production.

Key takeaways

    • FristOutcome of technology depends upon the context: Outcome of using a technology such as Bt is determined by the context in which it is deployed, and not just by the technology itself.
      • Negative fallout: If the context is suboptimal and does not prioritise the needs of the principal stakeholders (farmers), it can have significant negative fallouts, especially in India with a high proportion being marginal and subsistence farmers.
    • SecondBetter consultation in policy: There is a need for better consultation in policy, be it agriculture as a whole or crop-wise.
      • Socioeconomic consideration in GMO risk assessment: India is a signatory to international treaties on GMO regulation (the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety), which specifically provide for the inclusion of socio-economic considerations in GMO risk assessment.
      • However, socioeconomic and need-based considerations have not been a part of the GMO regulatory process in India.

Conclusion

Given the distress, the cotton-growing farmers are facing this is the right time to review the grounds on which Bt cotton was introduced in India.

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Genetically Modified Organisms(GMO): Developments and Concerns

Recently, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) decided to put on hold the government’s decision to commercialise genetically modified (GM) mustard, because of growing outrage by farmer groups against it. Let’s understand its basics in brief!

What is GMO?

  • GMOs can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination
  • It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non related species
  • Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods
  • Recently in India, GM mustard crop was introduced, which was later withdrawn. There is a raging debate going on advantages and disadvantages of GMOs
  • For a long time, further study was requested by farmers, environmentalist on GMO crops

<Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is a body under the Environment Ministry that regulates the use of genetically modified organisms>

Why are GM foods produced?

  • GM foods are developed – and marketed – because there is some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer of these foods
  • This is meant to translate into a product with a lower price, greater benefit (in terms of durability or nutritional value) or both
  • Initially GM seed developers wanted their products to be accepted by producers and have concentrated on innovations that bring direct benefit to farmers (and food industry generally)
  • One of the objectives for developing plants based on GM organisms is to improve crop protection

What really is India’s recently developed GM mustard?

  • A team of scientists at Delhi University led by former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental has bred DMH-11, a genetically modified (GM) mustard hybrid
  • Hybrids are normally obtained by crossing two genetically diverse plants from the same species
  • The first-generation offspring resulting from it has higher yields than what either of the parents is individually capable of giving
  • But there is no natural hybridisation system in mustard, unlike in, say, cotton, maize or tomato
  • What team has done is, that they have created a viable hybridisation system in mustard using GM technology
  • The resulting GM mustard hybrid, it is claimed, gives 25-30% more yield than the best varieties such as ‘Varuna’ currently grown in the country

Is there a need, in the first place, for developing a mustard hybrid?

  • In 2014-15, India imported 14.5 million tonnes of edible oils valued at $10.5 billion
  • With the country’s own annual edible oil production stuck at below 7.5 million tonnes, of which mustard’s share is roughly a quarter
  • So, there is need to raise domestic crop yields and cut dependence on imports
  • Hybrid technology is a potential technique to boost yields, as has been successfully demonstrated in a host of crops

What are the environmental risks?

  • GMOs contaminate forever. GMOs cross pollinate and their seeds can travel far and wide
  • It is impossible to fully clean up our contaminated gene pool
  • Genetic engineering allows plants to survive high doses of weed killers, resulting in higher herbicide residues in our food
  • GMO crops are creating ‘super weeds’ and ‘super bugs,’ which can only be killed with more toxic poisons

Are there any advantages?

Insect Resistance

  • Some GMO foods have been modified to make them more resistant to insects and other pests
  • This means the amount of pesticide chemicals used on the plants are reduced, so their exposure to dangerous pesticides are also reduced

Stronger Crops

  • Another benefit that GM technology is believed to bring about is that crops can be engineered to withstand weather extremes and fluctuations,
  • This means that there will be good quality and sufficient yields even under a poor or severe weather condition

Environment Protection

GM crops often requires less time, tools and chemicals, and may help with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and environmental pollution

More Nutritious Foods

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), some GM foods have been engineered to become more nutritious in terms of vitamin or mineral content.

Economic Benefits

  • Larger production leading to increased farm income, reduced poverty, low food prices and thus reduced hunger and malnutrition.
  • Besides new food products are also included, diversifying food varieties

Then, Why has there been so much concern about GM foods among some public interest groups, activists and consumers?

  • Since the first introduction on the market in the mid-1990s of a major GM food (herbicide-resistant soybeans), there has been concern about such food among activists and consumers, especially in Europe
  • In fact, public attention has focused on the risk side of the risk-benefit equation, often without distinguishing between potential environmental impacts and public health effects of GMOs
  • Consumers have questioned the validity of risk assessments, both with regard to consumer health and environmental risks, focusing particulary on long-term effects
  • Consumer concerns have triggered a discussion on the desirability of labeling GM foods, allowing for an informed choice of consumers

What further developments can be expected in the area of GMOs?

  • GM organisms are likely to include plants with improved resistance against plant disease or drought, crops with increased nutrient levels, fish species with enhanced growth characteristics
  • For non-food use, they may include plants or animals producing pharmaceutically important proteins such as new vaccines
Published with inputs from Arun
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