What stands in the way of Transgenic Mustard becoming India’s First GM Food Product? – The Wire Science

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  • On October 18, the Genetic Engineering Evaluation Committee, a regulatory body under the Ministry of Environment, approved the “release into the environment” of DMH-11 mustard.
  • DMH-11, a mustard hybrid, is the product of scientists at the Center for Genetic Manipulation of Crops, University of Delhi.
  • One method used to create DMH-11 was cytoplasmic male sterility—a very useful tool for creating hybrids, especially in self-pollinating species such as mustard.
  • Support for DMH-11 is based on India’s high import bill for edible oil and the prospect of a crop resilient to the vagaries of climate change.
  • Opposition to DMH-11 stems from the government’s obstructive approach to transgenic crop regulation, productivity and biosecurity questions.

Kochi: The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee of India has approved the release of genetically modified (GM) mustard into the environment.

At this point, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) will conduct field trials of the seeds. If successful, and if its developers get other approvals – including a final ‘OK’ from the Union government – GM mustard will become India’s first GM food crop, and within two years, farmers will be able to purchase GM mustard seeds. to cultivate

But while agricultural and plant scientists welcome this move, activists are not happy about it. Wire Science It explores what GM mustard is, what profits it could bring to India and its farmers, and why activists are raising concerns about the hybrid.

Creation of GM mustard

On October 18, the Genetic Engineering Assessment Committee (GEAC), a regulatory body under the Union Ministry of Environment, approved the ‘release into the environment’ of mustard hybrid DMH-11 in its 147th meeting. An environmental release is the intentional introduction into the environment of a genetically engineered GM organism in small trials so that scientists can measure and monitor its effects.

The mustard hybrid DMH-11 – where the letters stand for “Dhara Mustard Hybrid” – is the product of the work of scientists at the Center for Genetic Manipulation of Crops, University of Delhi.

A ‘hybrid’ is a variety developed by crossing two seeds of the same species but with different characteristics – for example, if one seed produces a higher yield than the other. Traditionally, scientists have achieved this through selection or cross-breeding. “Selection” is when farmers simply select plants with desirable traits as the progenitors of future crops and cull the rest. In crossbreeding, two selection plants will be grown together to produce progeny seeds with desired characteristics.

Scientists today have a choice transgenic breeding – here to increase productivity, improve nutritional properties, reduce the use of pesticides, etc.

This is how Bt cotton and brinjal products were born. Here, scientists integrated some genes from soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crop varieties to help the resulting plants produce a protein toxic to insect pests. As a result, these crops were less susceptible to damage by these pests.

Scientists did a similar thing to create DMH-11. They combined two genes found in soil bacteria called barnase and barstar Bacillus amyloliquefaciens in two mustard cultivars, ‘Varuna’ and ‘Early Heera-2’.

The ‘barnase’ gene in Varuna effectively made it sterile and prevented inbreeding in this variety. This is called cytoplasmic male sterility – and is a very useful tool for creating hybrids, especially in self-pollinating species such as mustard plants. The barstar gene in another variety, Early Heera-2, blocked the action of the barnase gene in Varuna.

Then they crossed varieties with each other. As a result, the final hybrid – DMH-11 is both highly productive and productive.

The benefits?

Experts said that GM mustard will increase the productivity of this crop in the country. Indian Express According to field trials conducted by ICAR1, DMH-11 reported to be 28% more productive than the popular Indian mustard variety ‘Varuna’. However, no data from the trials – other than this figure – is available in the public domain.

High productivity is essential for food security. India is currently one of the largest importers of edible oil in the world and imports meet about 60% of India’s needs. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting global supply disruption have also pushed up edible oil prices, thus increasing India’s import bill.

Scientists, including Ashok Kumar Singh, director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, said approval of GM mustard could help India foot the bill.

Crop varieties with desirable traits are also important under climate change. Extreme weather events such as drought and extreme rainfall have destroyed standing crops and reduced crop yields. (There is also evidence that higher atmospheric carbon dioxide and increased surface temperatures affect crop growth and productivity.)

Scientists hoped that the approval of GM mustard would also ease the approval process for other genetically engineered crops such as Bt brinjal, which faced stiff opposition from environmental activists and farmers’ bodies. In fact, GEAC noted in its meeting that the release of transgenic mustard into the environment can also be used for the development of new hybrids under the supervision of ICAR.

This means that more such hybrids that take advantage of cytoplasmic male sterility can be developed by scientists for commercial purposes.

The risks?

Opposing new technology is the least of activists’ worries. Their biggest concern now seems to be the potential impact of GM mustard plants on bees.

There is no scientific data yet on whether bees and other pollinators will visit GM mustard flowers in India. If they don’t, it could directly reduce pollinator populations. Pollinators are insects that help plants pollinate each other, thus allowing the production of fruits, including commercially important ones like apples.

According to the minutes of the GEAC meeting that approved the release of GM mustard into the environment, the body noted that it “seems very unlikely”. Bacillus amyloliquefaciens genes will “adversely affect honeybees and other pollinators” based on evidence gathered from studies in other countries and “recommendations from relevant ministries”.

Additionally, GEAC also proposed ICAR to conduct field demonstration studies to investigate the effect of mustard hybrid on bees and other pollinators “to generate scientific evidence in India’s agro-climatic situation and also as a backup mechanism”.

There are rules in place to revoke the board’s approval “if any evidence of harmful effects, such as damage to the environment, nature or health, of the approved GE mustard is established, which could not have been foreseen when the permit was granted.”

Then there are fears that DMH-11 is resistant to herbicides, said Kavitha Kuruganti, co-organizer of the GM-Free India Coalition. Down to Earth. At the root of this concern is the presence of a third “bar” gene in the hybrid, which makes its plants resistant to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium.

The result is that farmers can use herbicides to kill other crops without fear of effects on GM mustard plants – which in turn can encourage overuse of the substance.

Later, in a letter to Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav on October 28, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, wrote that there was no evidence of superior performance of DMH-11. Hence, the body called the move “dangerous” and urged the Union government not to allow GM mustard seeds to be sown “now or never”. The Trinamool Congress has also joined the fray of parties opposed to formalisation.

Opposition to GM mustard is not new. The Indian government granted similar approval to a GM mustard hybrid in May 2017 following trials by the Punjab Agricultural University and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi. But activists and farmers’ organizations appealed to the Supreme Court.

The court asked the government to take an “informed” decision on the issue. Specifically, the court said that the court will hear the claim of the activists Approved First, GM mustard. But the Ministry of Environment did not respond – and the matter remained pending.

Nothing has changed since 2017, Kuruganti said Business Standardand the government has yet to address the concerns he and others raised at the time.

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