GM Crops or Transgenic crop, Challenges and benefits |BT Cotton|

Genetic modification is nothing but adding or removing a certain part of the DNA, whereas transgenic is about transferring the gene from one species to another species. 

Example –Liger- Gene is transferred from a lion into tiger, spider goat is another famous example where the gene is transferred from spider into a goat. But among crops, transgenic crops are more common. 

The examples include- Bt Cotton, Bt Brinjal, Golden Rice, Golden Mustard, GM mustard, flavour-savour tomato. 

GM crops are developed with various objectives like making them pest resistant, herbicide-tolerant, biofortify, drought-resistant, salt resistant, water-resistant, increasing their shelf life, and even the medicinal substance can be obtained from them through pharming. 

BT Cotton

It is the only GM crop allowed for cultivation in India, here Bt. Stands for the soil bacteria-Bacillus thermogenesis-it produces a toxic substance called crystal protein which kills the pest after ingestion. From this bacteria, a gene Cry1Ac was transferred into cotton consequently that cotton plant also started producing the same toxin, and it became pest resistant. 

Bt cotton was introduced by a joint venture of Monsanto and Mahyco(Maharastra Hybrid Seed Company). There are three varieties of Bt cotton sold under the name Bollgard-I. It has only one gene transferred from the bacteria Bt. 

In 2006 Bollgard II was permitted, and it has two genes from the same bacteria. Monsanto has also developed Bollgard III. 

It is not only pest-resistant but also herbicide-tolerant having three genes from the same bacteria. The herbicide against which it has the resistance is Glyphosate. It is also known as a round-up ready. ThereforeBollgard III is also known as RRF( Roundup Ready Flex). India has not permitted the cultivation of Bollgard III. 

Monsanto has claimed that Bt Cotton has the resistance against three types of Bollworm, i.e. American Bollworm, Pink Bollworm and Spotted Bollworm. 

 In 2012, India became the second-largest producer of cotton in the world. But almost at the same time, a Parliamentary committee recommended that its cultivation should be stopped. A PIL followed it in SC.

These led to the appointment of 6 membered technical experts committee. It has made the following recommendations: 

1. The global benchmark for the edible crops is that only processed GM crops are allowed for human consumption, 2006 a law was passed in the form of Food safety standards act, and it has also mandated that only processed GM foods are allowed for human consumption. 

In 2012 a notification was issued by the ministry of consumer affairs which mandated mandatory GM labelling for the edible GM products. The announcement was released under the consumer protection act in the form of Legal Metrology(packed commodities) rules. 

In 2018 another notification was issued which restricted GM labelling only for those products where GM component is more than 5%. There is debate on whether labelling should be mandatory or voluntary. If it is compulsory, then the labelled products will be costly, which will hurt their commercial viability. If it is made optional, then it might result in health-related complications. In India agriculture sector and food packaging sector are decentralized and unorganized. Therefore it will be more difficult to ensure that these norms are being fulfilled.

2. The SC appointed technical experts committee recommended that herbicide-tolerant varieties should not be allowed for cultivation as it might result in the emergence of superweeds. 

3. Those crops which have originated in India there GM variety should not be allowed. It might affect crop diversity. 

2018 Mr Swaminathan along with Mr Kesvan wrote an article which suggested that Bt Cotton has failed to provide sustainable livelihood to the farmers, such crops should be used in only 1% of the cases and that too against abiotic factors. 


GM Mustard

GM mustard has been developed by a team led by former Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University Mr Deepak Pental, and the name is DMH-11. The objective was to increase productivity by developing hybrid seeds through cross-pollination. 

They took two varieties of mustard I .eVaruna and Earlyheera, IN VarunaBarnase gene was transferred from the bacteria straptomycesamylolquifaciens.

This gene hinders the pollen formation from rendering Varuna male sterile. In the same plant bar gene was transferred from the bacteria streptomyces hygroscopic. It protects herbicide glufosinate. In earlyheerabarstar gene was inserted from the bacteria straptomycesamylolcufaciens. Its role is to reverse the impact of barnase in the next generation. 

Earlyheera will undergo self-pollination whereas Varuna will undergo cross-pollination, once the pollination is complete glufosinate will be spread to kill earlyheera. The seeds collected from Varuna are Hybrid. They will be sold to the farmers. The flowers produced from these seeds will undergo self-pollination because barnstar has neutralized the impact of barnase. 

Issues with DMH-11(GM mustard) 

It is an edible GM crop. 

It is herbicide-tolerant 

Bar, barnase, barstar are under the patent of Bayer. A question is under what conditions this german company has permitted the use of the patented genes? 

Bayer has the patent for the genes, and it is also having the license for glufosinate. The fact is only this chemical can be used as a herbicide in case of GM Mustard. 

The Biosafety report of GM mustard explained in detail the safety aspects of the genes, but it did not even mentionedGlufosinate. 

But some of the critics have gone a bit too far while criticizing GM mustard by alleging that there is the use of terminator technology. These are not correct as it is universally banned moreover as there is a new ban in India since 2002. 

The argument given by Mr.Pental and his team is that India has been importing edible oils from Canada for more than two decades and 100% of oil crops in Canada are transgenic. There is no scientific evidence to suggest adverse health impact. 

They also cited the findings of more than 100 studies sponsored by the European Union related to edible GM crops. Not one has been able to prove the health hazards from consumption. 

Challenges with edible GM food crops-

a. There is a lack of adequate food testing infrastructure. 

b. The food sector in India is highly decentralized and unorganized. 

c. It will threaten biodiversity. 

d. There is a lack of clarity on health impacts on consumption of GM crops. 

e. Processing, testing and labelling requirements will make them expensive. 

f. Imported GM foods are entering in India without permission. 

g.Developed countries like France has banned edible GM crops. (Only 24 states have permitted edible GM crops). 


Golden Rice

It is a biofortified crop developed to increase the nutrients. The objective was to start the biosynthesis of beta carotene(a precursor of vitamin A) in the rice grain. To achieve these goals, genes were transferred from the flower daffodil and the bacteria pantoeaananatis in rice. 

Consequently, beta carotene synthesis started in rice grain, but it was just 1.6 microgram/gram. These were too insignificant. 

It was described as golden rice 1st generation. To develop the second-generation golden rice genes were transferred from maize and the same bacteria. It resulted in a dramatic increase in the concentration of beta carotene to 37 microgram/gram. Manila-based International Rice Research Institute has developed golden rice. 

Golden rice and transgenic rice.

GM Rice

It is a salt-tolerant variety developed by MS Swaminathan.

Research Foundation By transferring a gene from Mangrove plant so that it can be cultivated in the soil where salinity has increased due to climate change. 

Transgenic rice is an outcome of the efforts of CSIR lab in Lucknow,i.e.National Botanical Research Institute. Here the objective is to reduce the arsenic content in rice. In transgenic rice WAARSM (Arsenic Methyl

Transferase) gene was transferred from the fungus VesterdykellAaurantiaca. This gene converts arsenic into volatile organic compounds which are to be expelled from the plant. 

GURTs- It has two categories-terminator also known as V-GURT and second is traitor also known as T-GURT 

A.Terminator– It was developed by an American company Delta and Pineland. These seeds remain fertile only for one generation. The seeds harvested from them are infertile. These seeds have been universally banned for the following reasons: 

a. The phenomenon of gene transfer will render the seeds of other vegetation sterile. These will pose a huge risk for the survival of life on the planet. 

b. It will lead to homogenization of agriculture based on the narrow gene pool, it will work well for some time, but a single cycle of climate change or a pest attack might prove catastrophic. 

c. It will make Indian farmers that much more vulnerable for the exploitation by the multinational breeder companies. 

 B.Traitor- Also known as dirty seeds, addicted seeds. Zeneca Limited developed them by transferring a gene from a rat into the plant, because of the transferred gene, the growth was restricted.

To restore the growth, a specific chemical has to be sprayed on the crop. The company argues that it will include multiple attributes in a single seed. Farmers can choose a combination, but according to that, they have to spray the chemicals, then only the character will be exhibited.

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