Archive for the ‘Biotechnology’ Category

Dhaka Tribune

Breeders developing doubly resistant brinjal varieties

Reaz Ahmad

  •  Published at 08:22 pm April 6th, 2021

Bt brinjalBt brinjal, a genetically modified eggplant variety, was developed to fight fruit and shoot borer (FSB) that used to cause colossal crop loss Reaz Ahmad/Dhaka Tribune

Fruit and shoot borer-resistant Bt brinjal reaches out to 65,000 farmers in 7 years, work underway to achieve bacterial wilt resistance  

Starting with only 20 farmers in 2014, the technology of Bt brinjal – a crop developed to drastically lower hazardous pesticide application – reached to 65,000 eggplant growers this year, making it the fastest expanding biotech product in Bangladesh.

Bt brinjal, a genetically modified eggplant variety, was developed to fight fruit and shoot borer (FSB) that used to cause colossal crop loss in Bangladesh’s brinjal fields but not anymore.

Now, riding on the huge success of Bangladesh’s fastest expanding biotech crop, breeders areworking on developing two new eggplant varieties capable to withstand FSB and bacterial wilt.

Together with FSB, the bacterial wilt causes substantial crop loss in brinjal, second most consumed vegetable in Bangladesh after potato.

Dr Yousuf Akhond, a chief scientific officer of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (Bari) who heads the institution’s biotechnology division, told Dhaka Tribune recently that by working on two previously released brinjal varieties – Bari Begun-10 and Bari Begun-11 – they are now developing varieties, expected to withstand bacterial wilt.

Once success comes Bari’s way, brinjal breeders hope farmers in Bangladesh would get varieties of eggplants, which would effectively withstand both FSB and bacterial wilt.

Till date, Bangladesh is only country in South Asia to release GM food crop while some of its neighbours i.e., India, Pakistan have long been cultivating Bt cotton, a cash crop.   

Bt brinjal controls the FSB without the need for pesticide sprays to control it, thereby cutting farmers’ investment cost on brinjal and also resolving the worry over pesticide-induced health hazards. A few sprays are still needed to control insects like thrips, aphids and other minor insects that are not susceptible to the Bt protein produced by the plant.

However, bacterial wilt disease which lingers in many of the soils in Bangladesh, is not controllable by any sprays. Bacterial wilt is best controlled by using plants that are resistant to the disease.

Dr Md Jahangir Hossain, who coordinates biotech brinjal and late blight-resistant potato project in Bangladesh, told this correspondent that in 2020-21 crop year as many as 65,000 farmers in Bangladesh are growing Bt brinjal in 12,500 acres of land.

Fast adoption of Bt brinjal, he said, helped farmers reap double benefits of cost cutting and much less application of chemical pesticides.

Each year Bangladeshi farmers grow over half a million tons of brinjal from over 50,000 hectares of land. But scientists hope further adoption of Bt brinjal and future release of bacterial blight-resistant varieties would help farmers grow more brinjals from less land.   

Earlier, five years after introducing country’s first genetically modified crop – Bt brinjal – government undertook an impact assessment study in 2018. It stated that the farmers got benefitted financially by cultivating Bt brinjal and they are now less prone to health hazards caused by pesticide sprays. 

Under the Ministry of Agriculture’s behest, the study on 1200 farmers was designed and carried out by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). 

The study outcome found that the farmers who cultivated the Bt brinjal gained by 55 percent higher income comparing to their peers growing the non-Bt brinjal. 

The genetically modified Bt brinjal has been developed by inserting a crystal protein gene (Cry1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into the genome of various brinjal cultivars thereby, protecting the crop from infestation of Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB), the deadliest pest for brinjal.

There is an array of other biotech crop products now under release and development pipeline in Bangladesh which include, among others, Vitamin-A enriched Golden Rice, bacterial blight resistant potato, leaf curl resistant tomato, and Bt cotton.  

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OP-ED: The next step for Bt brinjal

Vijay Paranjape , Maricelis Acevedo

Chaka Tribune

  •  Published at 01:45 am April 2nd, 2021


Making Bt eggplant technology sustainable and durable in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is in its seventh year of growing genetically modified eggplant (Bt brinjal). Starting with 20 farmers in the 2014-15 season, we have now over 60,000 farmers adopting the technology in the 2020-21 season. These are farmers who have obtained seeds from the formal sources. 

The number of farmers growing Bt eggplant is likely to be larger, as some farmers use seeds saved from the previous season. The farmers have benefited from the technology by getting higher yields and savings due to the reduced use of insecticides to control the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB), which can cause yield losses of 86% or more. 

Reduced use of insecticides has also provided health benefits to the farmers, consumers, and the environment. 

Bangladesh now should take strategic steps to sustain this growth and make the technology durable. As with any new technology, stewardship is of vital importance, and this is true for Bt eggplant. While stewardship begins with quality seed, other practices, including an insect resistance management (IRM) program, are equally vital for the long-term sustainability of Bt eggplant technology in Bangladesh. 

The four Bt eggplant varieties currently available to farmers cover a limited eggplant growing area and there are still large numbers of eggplant-growing farmers who do not have access to the technology. Additionally, not all of the released Bt eggplant varieties are tolerant to bacterial wilt which requires additional care to be taken by the farmer in the field. Hence, there is a need to introduce the Bt technology into higher yielding, agronomically superior, wilt tolerant, and widely adapted varieties to achieve broader adoption of Bt eggplant in Bangladesh. The availability of such varieties will further increase the demand and adoption of Bt eggplant and provide benefits to a larger number of farmers.

Farmer training and awareness on stewardship and field compliance is important for sustainable production of this valuable product in Bangladesh and needs to be continued. Development of resistance (a natural process) by EFSB to the current Bt eggplant varieties can pose a challenge in the future if not addressed now. One way to delay the development of resistance in the insect population is planting a “refuge” of non-Bt eggplant surrounding the Bt eggplant field. 

Studies have shown that EFSB will colonize these non-Bt plants and delay the development of resistance to Bt plants. Thus, it is important that proper field stewardship practices are followed and monitored to delay resistance. Presently, less than 10% of the eggplant growing area is under Bt eggplant cultivation, and there is considerable refuge available in the form of traditional, non-Bt eggplant fields. 

However, as adoption increases it will become increasingly important that farmers plant their own refuges. There is also a need to explore the potential use of new management practices such as “refuge in the bag” (ie a specific mix of Bt and non-Bt seeds in the same packet) technology to ensure farmer refuge compliance. An important component of IRM also includes development and utilization of baseline studies of susceptibility to Bt protein (Cry1Ac) and monitoring for any changes that might indicate emerging resistance in the insect population. 

A coordinated effort

Bt eggplant technology in Bangladesh is managed by the public sector — where the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) is responsible for development of the technology and maintaining breeder seeds, the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) is responsible for large scale foundation seed production for distribution to farmers, and BARI and the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) carry out the extension and outreach activities.  

A coordinated effort (pre-season, in-season and post-season) is required between these three independent public agencies to enable high quality seeds to get to farmers. Such coordination between different agencies can be quite challenging. Encouraging the private sector to become involved in the development, production, and stewardship of GM products could be a solution to this issue.  

The private sector in Bangladesh could become a significant partner in the long-term development of Bt eggplant in Bangladesh and future GM crop innovations. The private sector is playing an increasingly important role in the Bangladesh Seed Industry, particularly in vegetable production. Good quality vegetable hybrids, and improved varieties developed by the private sector have helped farmers improve their yields, and the economics of vegetable cultivation. 

The private sector is considered to be efficient at developing and scaling quality seed. Once the Bt eggplant technology is made available to the private sector for commercial multiplication, the private sector may readily move forward to develop their own Bt varieties, including hybrids.

Strengthening the GM product-enabling environment will play a major role in sustaining not only the Bt technology but can also create a path for other GM crops that are already in the pipeline.  A science-based and predictable regulatory system is needed that can review applications in an efficient and faster pace. The adoption of an event-based registration in Bangladesh will further enable regulators to approve varieties suited for a particular region in a timely manner. 

Numerous studies have shown that the event-based approval process does not compromise efficacy or safety of the product. Effective communication strategies to enhance stewardship, scientific outreach, education, and policy advocacy will also help to safeguard Bt technology and its usefulness in Bangladesh.

By taking the right strategic steps, Bangladesh can make the Bt eggplant technology sustainable and durable. Such success will pave the way for other GM products in Bangladesh and will contribute to boost food security, enhance economic growth, and improve environmental quality.

Vijay Paranjape is Associate Director, Bt Eggplant Project, Bangladesh, Sathguru Management Consultants, India. Maricelis Acevedo, Director, Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership, Cornell University. This article was originally published by the Cornell Alliance for Science.

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Thanks to gene editing, another biotech-driven farming revolution might be ‘just around the corner’

Nature | March 26, 2021

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Credit: Research Square
Credit: Research Square

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

The basic principle of crop breeding is to first discover and then select for variants with desired traits. While selection is relatively easy, discovery is more challenging. Conventional breeding for domestication and crop improvement have unquestionably revolutionized agriculture and our society. 

But to further explore the potential of agriculture to feed an ever-growing population, larger crop diversity needs to be unlocked. The gene editing and RNA viral transfection technologies developed over recent years allow precise engineering of desirable variants with unprecedentedly high efficiency and resolution, greatly expanding the range of variations available and reducing our reliance on naturally existing mutations.

CRISPR–Cas breeding is more efficient than mutation breeding because mutagenesis is targeted to genes known to control desirable traits. Moreover, transgene-free plants can be easily obtained by transiently expressing CRISPR proteins or by segregating out constitutively expressed CRISPR. Gene-edited crops could thus avoid regulations against the cultivation of GMOs. 

Crop breeding need no longer rely on naturally occurring mutations, but instead artificially generated variations can be the raw material for further breeding. A much broader spectrum of phenotype space is ready for exploration, allowing development of optimal phenotypes adapted to heterogeneous environments on Earth, or even space. A new biotechnology-driven revolution in agriculture could be just around the corner.

Read the original postRelated article:  ‘Using Nature’s Shuttle’: Judith M. Heimann’s fascinating new book about how scientists learned to create genetically modified crops

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Steve Reinholt of Starr Ranch Growers:

“Impact from India’s new non-GMO requirement has been minimal”

A new requirement imposed by the Indian government on imported produce items has been causing challenges for apple exporters in Washington. “A sizeable list of produce items now requires a non-GMO certificate, and apples are one of the items on the list,” says Steve Reinholt, Export Sales Manager at Starr Ranch Growers.

Shipments to India continue, impact is minimal
While the new requirement is bringing a new hurdle for exporters, it’s not preventing them from continuing their shipments. Reinholt explains: “It is not a simple process and will require additional processes and documentation prior to shipping. The issue was larger than any one company because the requirement from India was to have all shipments certified non-GMO by an official body – and here in the US we didn’t have anyone who did that sort of certification. Fortunately, the USDA and the WSDA have both stepped up and developed paperwork that will meet India’s requirements, as long as the grower and packer can produce the correct verification.”
Fortunately, the new requirement came during a smaller than usual season, which means that the overall impact has been minimal, says Reinholt. “Additionally, the red delicious variety has historically been the preferred apple in India and the production of reds has dropped off significantly over the past few years. Therefore, the overall impact has been mitigated to a degree. However, when we have the next large crop, we will need all markets open and available to us to profitably market our products. So, ideally, we will be able to get this requirement removed for future seasons,” he says.
Reinholt explains that the requirement of a non-GMO certificate for apples is not logical in the first place: “All apples grown and packed for fresh consumption in the Pacific Northwest are non-GMO, and the variety of apples that India buys don’t even have a GMO variant. I believe this new requirement is a classic case of a bureaucracy throwing up barriers to free trade.”
Tariffs continue to be biggest barrier for exporters
Despite this new requirement and the challenges that have resulted from it, the biggest barrier for US apple exporters continues to be the high tariffs in India. “In the past, India has been a big market for Starr Ranch, as well as for the rest of the apple industry. That changed a couple of years ago when a retaliatory duty of 20% was put on many products, including apples, from the US. Overall volume has dropped off drastically, and the effects of the retaliatory tariffs have a far greater impact on our ability to sell our apples profitably in India than this new non-GMO requirement. Still, India does remain an important trading partner,” Reinholt concludes.
For more information:
Steve Reinholt
Starr Ranch Growers
Tel: +1 (509) 663 2191
Email: sreinholt@oneonta.com 

Publication date: Mon 22 Mar 2021
Author: Annika Durinck
© FreshPlaza.com

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Road map for domesticating multi-genome rice using gene editing

Having more than two sets of chromosomes can help plants to adapt and evolve, but generating new crops with this type of genome is challenging. A road map for doing just that has now been developed using wild rice.

Diane R. Wang

We all sometimes wish we could do more than one thing at once — run errands, catch up on work deadlines and perhaps grab that long-overdue coffee with a friend. A genetic state known as polyploidy helps some plant genomes to do just this. Most plants, like humans, are diploid, with two sets of every chromosome. But polyploid plants have four, six or even eight sets of chromosomes. These additions allow different copies of a gene to take on different roles, and provide a buffer against potentially harmful mutations. Accordingly, polyploidy has served as a common mode of evolution in flowering plants1Writing in Cell, Yu et al.2 outline a viable approach to producing a domesticated form of polyploid rice using gene editing. Their advance could allow us to reap the benefits of polyploidy in one of the world’s most important crop species.Read the paper: A route to de novo domestication of wild allotetraploid rice

All crop species evolved from wild ancestors, as humans saved and propagated plants that had favourable attributes — loss of seed-dispersal mechanisms, for instance, and larger seeds and fruits3 — over hundreds or thousands of years. The world’s main rice crop, the Asian species Oryza sativa, was domesticated about 9,000 years ago from its wild progenitor, Oryza rufipogon, through processes thought to have occurred across multiple regions in Asia4,5. Both species are diploid, carrying two sets of 12 chromosomes.

For rice scientists, the idea of developing polyploid cultivated rice is tantalizing as a potential means for future crop improvement, especially in the face of climate variability6. The plant’s extra gene copies might enable rapid adaptation in response to major changes in the environment without the loss of favourable features7. But generating a polyploid rice from a cultivated diploid plant is hugely technically challenging. With that in mind, Yu et al. took an entirely different approach. The authors started with a distant, wild polyploid cousin of O. sativa and O. rufipogon, and domesticated it using biotechnological approaches (Fig. 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1 | A fast track to cultivated polyploid rice. Yu et al.2 have developed a strategy for rapid domestication of wild polyploid rice (which has more than two sets of chromosomes, unlike the rice commonly grown as a food crop). The first step is to select a wild strain that has favourable characteristics for gene editing and crop production. This is followed by genomic analysis and method optimization. Iterative cycles of genome editing, conventional crossing and testing are then needed before the new crop is rolled out to farmers and evaluated. Red highlights indicate sections of the road map completed by the authors for the wild rice Oryza alta.

The authors first spent time identifying an appropriate starting strain. The ideal candidate needed to be amenable to callus induction and regeneration — a process in which plant tissues are cultured to produce a mass of partially undifferentiated cells called a callus, from which new plants are generated. These properties are essential for gene-editing techniques. The selected individual also needed to have high biomass and tolerance to various abiotic and biotic stresses — heat and insect resistance, for example. After screening 28 polyploid wild rice lines, a strain of Oryza alta was selected, and named polyploid rice 1 (PPR1).

Oryza alta has four sets of chromosomes (it is tetraploid), and is found in Central and South America8. The species arose as a result of hybridization between two ancestors that had diploid genomes, designated C and D. The PPR1 strain selected by Yu et al. looks quite different from cultivated O. sativa. For instance, it is very tall — more than 2.7 metres, compared with 1 metre or less for typical O. sativa. It produces abundant biomass, and has broad leaves and sparse, small seeds adorned with awns (spiky protrusions thought to aid seed dissemination). As such, domesticating this wild relative was no small feat.

Yu and colleagues established methods for gene editing in PPR1, and assembled a high-quality genome for the strain. This acted as a map that helped identify genes to target for domestication. The authors compared PPR1 with an O. sativa genome dubbed Nipponbare. They discovered about 10,000 genes in each of the C and D genomes that did not have equivalents (homologues) in Nipponbare. By contrast, about 39,500 genes in Nipponbare (70.41% of the genome) did have homologues in PPR1.Multiple genomes give switchgrass an advantage

The latter was a promising result, because it meant that the genes responsible for domestication in O. sativa probably had related versions in PPR1. The researchers edited a suite of such genes in PPR1 that were known to have been involved in the domestication of O. sativa. This led to a range of improvements in PPR1: loss of shattering (a seed-dispersal mechanism), so that seeds did not fall off the plant before harvest; reduced awn length to ease post-harvest processing; increased grain length for larger kernels and greater yield; decreased height and thickened stem diameter to support the heavier grains; and modified (both longer and shorter) flowering times, needed for local adaptation to different latitudes.

Together, Yu and colleagues’ efforts led to the production of PPR1 lines with domesticated features in a just few generations, fast-tracking a process that typically occurs over hundreds to thousands of years. The work opens the door to developing plants that not only can better withstand environmental stresses (a crucial characteristic for global food security in the face of changing climates), but also could carry other characteristics — enhanced nutrition and taste, for example — that might help rice to meet evolving consumer preferences in the future. In addition, the strategy the authors have devised could theoretically provide a road map for applying biotechnology to drive the domestication of wild relatives of other present-day crops.Keen insights from quinoa

The techniques established by Yu et al. await testing in other wild, tetraploid rice strains. Successful extension to a broader gene pool will be necessary if researchers and breeders are to generate a diverse repository of domesticated polyploids, which could then be used to generate further improved strains through conventional crosses or genome editing — strains adapted to particular production systems, for instance, or those with high market acceptability. And although wild polyploids hold great promise as yet-untapped sources of genes that confer tolerance to abiotic stresses such as drought, these traits are likely to be complex, as noted by the authors, being influenced by many genes, each of which has only a small effect. A deeper understanding of the genetics of these plants is needed for the full potential of wild rices to be appreciated.

There is a long journey ahead for the breeding of cultivated polyploid rice. But the first seeds have now been sown. As demand for nimble and resilient food systems rises, rapid domestication and improvement of wild plant species, including polyploids, may well become a valuable instrument in agriculture’s toolbox.doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-00589-9

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GM eggplant helps farmers reduce pesticide use and increase profits, study finds – Alliance for Science (cornell.edu)

by Joan Conrow

Dec. 7, 2020

Journal of Agricultural Economics.

“Bt brinjal, a publicly developed GMO [genetically modified organism], conveys significant productivity and income benefits to farmers while reducing the use of pesticides damaging to human and ecological health,” the researchers concluded.

Cultivating Bt brinjal raised yields by 3,564 kilograms per hectare. Bt brinjal farmers are harvesting more eggplant and discarding fewer fruits due to damage, resulting in higher yields, the researchers found.

“Bt brinjal farmers sell more eggplant and receive a higher price for the output they sell while incurring lower input costs, resulting in a 128 percent increase in net revenues,” the paper states.

The researchers, who are based at Cornell University and the International Food Policy Research Institute in Dhaka, also found that “Bt brinjal farmers used smaller quantities of pesticides and sprayed less frequently. Bt brinjal reduced the toxicity of pesticides as much as 76 percent.” Additionally, farmers who had pre‐existing chronic conditions consistent with pesticide poisoning were less likely to report a symptom of pesticide poisoning or incur cash medical expenses to treat such symptoms while growing Bt brinjal.

Smallholder farmers grow brinjal because it is a lucrative cash crop that is popular with consumers. However, the devastating fruit and shoot borer (FSB) pest can damage up to 86 percent of their plants. In an attempt to control the pest, farmers may use pesticides from 23 to 140 times per season, though few take measures to protect themselves and the environment during application.

Bt brinjal — the first genetically modified (GM) food crop adopted for cultivation in South Asia — provides inherent resistance to the FSB.

Researchers based their study on a farm-level cluster randomized controlled trial (RCT). To their knowledge, it was the first study to use an RCT design, which is less vulnerable to concerns regarding selection bias and endogenous placement, to assess the impact of a GM crop in a South Asia setting. Their study sample comprised 1,196 households (598 treatment households and 598 control households) in 200 clusters/villages (100 treatment and 100 control villages), with an attrition rate of 1.7 percent (five treatment households and 15 controls).

“Critics of GM crops claim that GMOs convey no economic, health or environmental benefits while they also ‘pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty.’ Our results speak directly to these criticisms,” the researchers wrote. “Bt brinjal farmers marketed more output, sold at a higher price, incurred lower input costs, and, consequently, had higher net revenues (by 128 percent). Bt brinjal farmers used smaller quantities of pesticides, sprayed less frequently, and reduced the toxicity of pesticides applied by 42 to 76 percent. All these benefits were derived from an open‐pollinated crop provided by a public agency.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/nEHEt56w0PU?feature=oembed

Researchers found that although Bt brinjal farmers retained more brinjal for home consumption, both because they produced more and discarded less post‐harvest, they sold also 143.6 kg more brinjal than the control group — an impact significant at the 5 percent level. Additionally, Bt brinjal sold at prices 12.6 percent higher than non-GM varieties.

“We note that traders purchasing Bt brinjal knew that it was a GM crop, and, to the best of our knowledge, consumers knew that they were purchasing a GMO food,” the researchers wrote. “A consequence of reduced pesticide application was that Bt brinjal looked better and had no marks of infestation or holes, the skin of the brinjal was much softer, making the food easier to prepare and, according to the respondents in our qualitative fieldwork, tastier.”

To illustrate those points, the researchers included this comment from a market trader: “At the beginning, I could not sell this brinjal in this market; I forced them to take it, especially those who are known to me to come every day. I told them no problem if you do not pay money. Then, when they took the brinjal home and ate it, they told me to give them more brinjal. Since then, demand is getting higher. In fact, it was not sold for two or three days at the beginning. After that, I enticed all of them to buy this. Since then, I did not have any problems.”

Bt brinjal farmers also required less family labor — 250 days, compared to 278 days for control households — primarily because they were able to reduce the number of pesticide applications by 33.6 percent, compared to the control group. The quantity of pesticide used fell by 28.2 percent, while the toxicity of pesticides also declined by 42 percent overall. Farmers growing Bt brinjal and who had pre‐existing chronic conditions were 11.5 percentage points less likely to report a symptom of pesticide poisoning.

“We note three policy implications that follow from these results,” the researchers concluded. “They support the view that GMOs can contribute to the goal of increasing yields while reducing environmental stressors. They provide further justification for releasing Bt brinjal in countries such as India and the Philippines, where these varieties have been developed but not approved for cultivation due to public reservations about GMO foods. They point to the valuable role that public agencies can play in the dissemination of GMOs. The involvement of BARI and the Bangladesh Department of Agriculture in the development and support of Bt brinjal cultivation alleviates concerns raised by anti‐GMO activists regarding farmer sovereignty. Finally, our finding that consumers are willing to pay more for a GM crop is striking; further work understanding why would be of value.”




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Indian farmers can’t wait anymore, they are sowing seeds of GM crops one Bt brinjal at a time

The Modi govt’s nod to field trials of two brinjal varieties comes after years of delayed decisions, leaving farmers to deal with daily risks of agriculture.

BARUN S. MITRA 16 September, 2020 3:41 pm ISThttps://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?href=https://theprint.in/opinion/indian-farmers-cant-wait-anymore-they-are-sowing-seeds-of-gm-crops-one-bt-brinjal-at-a-time/502675/&layout=button_count&show_faces=false&width=105&action=like&colorscheme=light&height=21

A brinjal on plant. (Representative image)

Earlier this month, the Narendra Modi government reportedly sanctioned biosafety field trials of two new transgenic varieties of brinjal, developed by a public sector research institute. The news created quite the buzz.

Brinjal is among the most widely available and consumed vegetables in India, after potato, onion and tomato. But a brinjal crop is susceptible to pests, particularly the fruit and shoot borer (FSB), which often affects 50-80 per cent of the crop. Farmers frequently spend over half their input costs on pest control, and insecticides may have to be sprayed 30 to 70 times in a five-month crop cycle.https://b2313382ce6a14505bc21532cd71665f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Many farmers spray products derived from naturally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), as a bio-pesticide to control several destructive pests, particularly in vegetable crops. But now, advanced molecular biology tools have enabled scientists to identify certain genes in the bacterium that produce insecticidal proteins that specifically kill a certain group of insect pests, and incorporate them in the desired plant by genetic engineering. When the target insects feed on such transgenic plants, they ingest Bt protein and get killed. Thus, this technology provides a built-in control mechanism against the pests, thereby greatly reducing the need to use chemical insecticides. Bt Brinjal has been developed to achieve this objective.

Also read: GM brinjals are helping Bangladesh farmers earn more, save more, study finds

Bt Brinjal in India 

There are two basic technology platforms offering Bt Brinjal today. One, developed by Maharashtra-based company Mahyco, is built on the gene Cry1Ac, with the event EE-1. This has been commercially grown in Bangladesh since 2013. Another Bt Brinjal technology was indigenously developed by the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI), using the gene Cry1Fa1, with the Event-142.

Bt Brinjal Cry1Ac, EE-1: 2001 to 2010 

  • A preliminary greenhouse evaluation to study growth, development and efficacy of Bt Brinjal was introduced by Mahyco, in 2001.
  • Mahyco shared the technology with three public sector research organisations to deploy it in open-pollinated varieties of brinjal in 2005.
  • Two successive subcommittees evaluated the data generated by the trials, and recommended its environmental release in 2009.
  • In October 2009, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), while recommending Bt Brinjal’s environmental release, placed the final decision before the government in view of “the very important policy implication at the national level”.

Bt Brinjal Cry1Fa1, Event-142: 2001-2010 

This transgenic Bt Brinjal expressing the gene Cry1Fa1 was developed by IARI in 2001-2004.

  • The technology was transferred to Bejo Sheetal Seeds Pvt Ltd (BSSPL), Jalna in 2005, to conduct biosafety studies as per the regulatory requirement.
  • IARI filed a patent in 2006, for inventing the synthetic Cry1Fa1 gene. The patent was granted in 2010.
  • In 2009, biosafety research level, BRL-I, trials were initiated by BSSPL at three locations with two Bt Brinjal hybrids — Janak Bt and BSS 793 Bt — in Jalna, Varanasi and Guntur.
  • Limited seed production of Bt Brinjal hybrids for BRL-II trials was approved by the GEAC in 2010.

But eventually, the science of both these Bt Brinjals failed the political test. On 9 February 2010, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) announced an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal following a round of ‘national consultations’. Subsequently, all field trials of the GM crops were stopped in 2013.

Also read: APMC laws had shackled farmers, Modi govt’s ordinance makes them as free as other sectors

Bangladesh picks up where India left off 

In 2009, Bangladesh began tests and trials for Bt Brinjal Cry1Ac with EE-1. It approved the first Bt Brinjal (EE-1) variety for commercial release, with 20 farmers sowing the new seeds in 2013.https://b2313382ce6a14505bc21532cd71665f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

The year 2018 marked the fifth anniversary of Bt Brinjal in Bangladesh. During its meeting in September 2018, the GEAC noted that nearly 50,000 farmers in Bangladesh were growing Bt Brinjal. Over 27,000 farmers had adopted Bt brinjal in 2017-18, not including the farmers who had saved their own seeds from the previous season.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), together with Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), carried out a randomised control trial among Bt Brinjal and non-Bt Brinjal farmers in Bangladesh in 2018. The key findings showed that net yields were 42 per cent higher for Bt Brinjal farmers. The Bt Brinjal farmers also witnessed a 31 per cent reduction in costs per kg of produce, and a 27.3 per cent increase in gross revenue per hectare.

While the quantity of pesticides used decreased by 39 per cent, the rate of FSB infestation in Bt Brinjal plants was only 1.8 per cent, in contrast to 33.9 per cent of the other.  A report published in 2020, assessed the impact based on a survey of brinjal farmers in five districts. Results indicated that Bt Brinjal provided an average of 19.6 per cent higher yield and 21.7 cent higher revenue compared to non-Bt varieties.

Bangladesh recognises that Bt Brinjal needs to be made available in more varieties suitable for different agro-climatic areas in the country, and in varieties that appeal to local tastes.

Also read: Halt Bt brinjal trials, it is against the national interest, RSS affiliate writes to Modi

Political merry-go-round on GM crops 

Prime Minister Modi’s 2014 claim that there was a possibility of genetic engineering in ancient India raised expectations among many farmers on the prospects of genetically modified (GM) crops. But here is a glance at what really happened to the GM crops.

  • In July 2014, the GEAC recommended experimentation and field trials of a number of GM crops, including brinjal, chickpea, cotton, rice, and mustard.
  • In November 2014, BSSPL sought an NOC from five states for BRL-II field trials of Bt Brinjal, but made no headway.
  • In a written reply during Rajya Sabha’s 2014 winter session, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said, “There is no scientific evidence to prove that GM crops would harm soil, human health and environment… GM crops have beneficial traits… that may help in food security.”
  • By the end of 2016, some companies withdrew their applications for GM crops, which were at different stages of development. By 2018, some other companies had sought permission to defer their trials due to policy uncertainties.
  • In September 2018, the GEAC met to discuss Mahyco’s request to revive large scale field trials of Bt Brinjal. The GEAC sought relevant data on post-commercial release of Bt Brinjal from Bangladesh.
  • In April 2019, reports of unauthorised Bt Brinjal cultivation in Haryana surfaced. Samples tested by government agencies suggested evidence of genetic modification, but did not specify the particular gene involved.
  • Led by the Shetkari Sanghatana, a voluntary farmers network in Maharashtra, farmers and friends came together to contribute Rs 50,000 to compensate Jeevan Saini, a marginal farmer, whose half-acre plot of land allegedly growing Bt Brinjal was uprooted in May 2019.
  • In June 2019, the Shetkari Sanghatana launched a Kisan Satyagraha to demand access to latest technologies, by publicly sowing the unapproved herbicide-tolerant Bt cotton, offering dual protection against herbicides and bollworms, in Maharashtra and Haryana. The protesting farmers promised to sow Bt Brinjal as part of farmers’ “field trial” since the government had stopped all trials.
Jeevan Saini, the farmer from Fatehabad district, Haryana, who was felicitated by groups of farmers from Haryana and Maharashtra | Source: GS Mann, a farmer in Hisar

Also read: Why farmers are still having to protest for their right to sow GM seeds, even in a pandemic

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? 

The second decade of the 21st century, 2011 to 2020, has turned out to be the lost decade for India, as far as agriculture biotechnology is concerned. The GEAC has held only 35 meetings in 10 years, and even recommended trials were not held. This contrasts sharply with the previous decade, when the GEAC held almost 81 meetings, and over a dozen GM crops were in various stages of development.

In May 2020, the GEAC, once again granted permission to BSSPL to conduct BRL-II confined field trials with two transgenic Bt Brinjal hybrids (Event-42), in at least two of the eight designated states, provided the state governments issue NOCs. This is a repeat of the recommendations for confined field trials issued in 2010, and again in 2014, both of which had failed to make any difference on the ground. In September, BSSPL said that it hopes to begin the field trials in April 2021.

This chronology of Bt Brinjal’s development in India suggests that policymakers have merely used the regulatory mechanism to avoid taking a clear decision, focussing on hypothetical risks rather than real ones. The endless demand for trials and tests only suggests that in the name of science, there is an attempt to choke the progress of science and stop its adoption for practical use.

This is a complete reversal of the fundamental legal philosophy of modern civilisation, which holds that one is innocent unless proven guilty. The yardstick now being used for GM crops is that these crops are inherently dangerous, and therefore presumed guilty, unless it can be shown that they are not. But a negative can never be proven.

As any toxicologist knows, it is the dosage that makes a poison.

Increasingly, it is the farmers, who bear the daily risks of agriculture, who are now speaking up in support of technologies that could reduce their risks and improve their wellbeing. It is the farmers who are defying the legal diktat. By taking the risk of sowing unapproved GM crops without any assurance of quality, they are engaging in the largest field trial ever possible. These brave farmers are demonstrating their capacity to take on the risk society is imposing on them by denying them access to new technologies, including GM crops.

Indian farmers are the true representatives of Aatmanirbhar Bharat, and their produce is the original ‘Make in India’, long before these slogans were coined.

The author is an independent policy analyst and the former founder-director of Liberty Institute. He has an interest in agriculture reforms and is working with farmers’ networks on the ground. Views are personal.

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Matt Hayes:

‘Researchers help inform cassava breeding worldwide’

“Scientists in Cornell’s NextGen Cassava project have uncovered new details regarding cassava’s genetic architecture that may help breeders more easily pinpoint traits for one of Africa’s most vital crops.

Their findings are reported in a study published July 31 in Plant Molecular Biology.

The scientists analyzed large breeding populations measured extensively over successive years and stages of selection in multi-environment field trials in Nigeria. The genome-wide association analysis explored genomic regions most responsible for desirable traits in cassava, a food crop that provides the main source of calories for 500 million people across the globe.

The scientists found more than 40 quantitative trait loci associated with a total of 14 traits, responsible for characteristics such as disease responses, nutritional quality and yield. The traits were classified broadly into four categories – biotic stress, quality, plant agronomy and agro-morphology.

“Our findings provide critical new entries into the catalogue of major loci available to cassava breeders,” said Ismail Rabbi, a molecular geneticist and plant breeder at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and a member of the NextGen project. “These markers should greatly improve cassava research and provide another powerful tool for the breeders’ toolbox.”

“Cassava is an incredibly useful food and industrial crop today and will be more so in the future as climate change reshapes agriculture everywhere, but first we must better understand its complex genome,” said Chiedozie Egesi, NextGen program director and co-author on the study.

Based in the Department of Global Development, the NextGen Cassava Breeding project supports scientists from many disciplines with advanced technologies and methods. The project works to empower smallholder cassava farmers in sub-Saharan Africa by developing, releasing and distributing improved cassava varieties.

Plant diseases and pests like cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava green mite are major constraints to cassava production in Africa, India and across Asia, including Vietnam and Thailand. Infections of CMD can lead to yield losses of 82%, or more than 30 million tons each year.

“A complete understanding of cassava’s genetic architecture is the critical step needed to accelerating genetic improvement and bring lasting benefits to farmers and consumers who depend on this crop for food and income throughout the world,” said Egesi, who’s also a visiting scientist in the Department of Global Development and an adjunct professor of plant breeding and genetics in the School of Integrative Plant Science, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

While the findings revealed novel genomic regions, it also revealed additional markers associated with previously measured traits.

Data from the study was made freely available through several commercial genotyping service vendors. The scientists plan further studies using germplasm from other regions, including East Africa and Latin America, which they say should bolster the catalogue of major effect loci available for molecular breeding.

Study co-authors include Cornell adjunct professor Jean-Luc Jannink and researchers from IITA and the National Root Crops Research Institute in Nigeria. Researchers from the Boyce Thompson Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service also contributed.

NextGen Cassava is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and by UK Aid, a British government initiative.

Matt Hayes is associate director for communications for Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.”

By Matt Hayes for Cornell University

Publication date: Thu 27 Aug 2020

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science daily

Gene-editing protocol for whitefly pest opens door to control

April 23, 2020
Penn State
Whiteflies are among the most important agricultural pests in the world, yet they have been difficult to genetically manipulate and control, in part, because of their small size. An international team of researchers has overcome this roadblock by developing a CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing protocol that could lead to novel control methods for this devastating pest.

Whiteflies are among the most important agricultural pests in the world, yet they have been difficult to genetically manipulate and control, in part, because of their small size. An international team of researchers has overcome this roadblock by developing a CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing protocol that could lead to novel control methods for this devastating pest.

According to Jason Rasgon, professor of entomology and disease epidemiology, Penn State, whiteflies (Bemisia tabaci) feed on many types of crop plants, damaging them directly through feeding and indirectly by promoting the growth of fungi and by spreading viral diseases.

“We found a way to genetically modify these insects, and our technique paves the way not only for basic biological studies of this insect, but also for the development of potential genetic control strategies,” he said.

The team’s results appeared on April 21 in The CRISPR Journal.

The CRISPR/Cas9 system comprises a Cas9 enzyme, which acts as a pair of ‘molecular scissors’ that cuts DNA at a specific location on the genome so bits of DNA can be added or removed, and a guide RNA, that directs the Cas9 to the right part of the genome.

“Gene editing by CRISPR/Cas9 is usually performed by injecting the gene-editing complex into insect embryos, but the exceedingly small size of whitefly embryos and the high mortality of injected eggs makes this technically challenging,” said Rasgon. “ReMOT Control (Receptor-Mediated Ovary Transduction of Cargo), a specific type of CRISPR/Cas9 technique developed in my lab, circumvents the need to inject embryos. Instead, you inject the gene-editing complex which is fused to a small ovary-targeting molecule called BtKV, into adult females and the BtKV guides the complex into the ovaries.”

To explore the use of ReMOT Control in whiteflies, the team targeted the “white” gene, which is involved in eye color. When this gene is functioning normally, whiteflies have brown eyes, but when it is non-functional due to mutations, the insects is supposed to have white eyes. The team found that ReMOT Control generated mutations that resulted in juvenile insects with white eyes that turned red as they developed into adults.

“Tangentially, we learned a bit about eye color development,” said Rasgon. “We expected the eyes to remain white and were surprised when they turned red. Importantly, however, we found that the mutations we generated using ReMOT Control were passed on to offspring, which means that a change can be made that is inherited to future generations.”

Rasgon said the team hopes its proof-of-principle study will allow scientists to investigate the same strategy using genes that affect the ability for the insects to transmit viral pathogens of crop plants to help control the insects and protect crops.

“This technique can be used for any application where you want to delete any gene in whiteflies, for basic biology studies or for the development of potential genetic control strategies,” he said.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Penn State. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Chan C. Heu, Francine M. McCullough, Junbo Luan, Jason L. Rasgon. CRISPR-Cas9-Based Genome Editing in the Silverleaf Whitefly (Bemisia tabaci). The CRISPR Journal, 2020; 3 (2): 89 DOI: 10.1089/crispr.2019.0067

Cite This Page:

Penn State. “Gene-editing protocol for whitefly pest opens door to control.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 April 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200423130410.htm>.

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The Heartland Institute

Genetically Engineered Moths Could Eliminate Crop Pests

April 23, 2020

But farmers might soon be getting a new weapon to combat them: Genetically engineered versions of the moths that mate with wild pests and cause half their offspring to die.


Diamondback moths can wipe out entire fields of crops and ruin farmers. They’re also the pests most resistant to insecticides and crops genetically modified to kill them. Farmers, however, might soon be getting a new weapon to combat them: genetically engineered versions of the moths that mate with wild pests and cause half their offspring to die—but that will happen only if federal regulators significantly speed up their approval process.

The biotechnology company Oxitec developed the modified diamondback moths, which survive well on actual farms. Once modified males mate with females in the wild, where their “lethality” gene is passed along, the gene prevents the female offspring from developing, so they die as larvae.

Meanwhile, the male offspring survive with half inheriting the “lethality” gene. The population shrinks further when those males grow up and mate with other wild females, causing the next generation of female offspring to die as well.

Resistant to Pesticides

The diamondback moth is the number one insect in the world for resistance to pesticides, says Alton Sparks, professor of entomology at The University of Georgia.

“Everything that has been tried to control diamondback moths, they have developed a resistance to,” said Sparks. “We have populations in south Georgia that we are unable to control with insecticides.”

Sparks says the pests are very particular about what they feed on: vegetables that thrive in cold or cool weather, such as broccoli, cabbage, canola, cauliflower, collards, and kale, resulting in billions of dollars in lost crops each year.

“They chew holes in the leaves while they’re a caterpillar,” Sparks said . “You can lose an entire field because they make the crops unmarketable.”


It will take a while for the technology to truly cut down diamondback moth populations, says Sparks.

“You can’t put the modified moths out there and then spray pesticides, because you might interfere with modified moths being released,” said Sparks. “There will be a learning curve, but it’s something we can establish as the population limits itself, and we will have to work with the population for a while before it overcomes the wild population and causes it to crash.”

The Oxitec technology is species-specific, so it will not impact non-target species, says Sparks.

“If it works the way we hope it will, then it replaces fairly heavy pesticide use,” Sparks said. “There may be some concerns because it involves genetic modification of the insect, but it is not something that’s going to end up contaminating or damaging the food supply or the environment, and the modification doesn’t affect other species.

“If this species becomes extinct, it would make crop production much easier and reduce chemical use,” said Sparks. “The diamondback moth is a worldwide pest. I’ve been studying it for the past 32 years, and it’s unfortunate this technology is years away from being commercially available,” because of the long delays awaiting approval by federal regulators.

‘An Unalloyed Good’

If the GMO diamondback moth works as designed, it would be a pure good for agriculture, the environment, and society, says Gregory Conko, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“If successful, modified diamondback moths would represent an unalloyed good: a boon to farmers, food production, and the environment,” said Conko. “It is always good when farmers have another tool to help them fight pests, because globally it’s estimated they lose between 20 and 40 percent of their crop potential to pests.

“The number is closer to the lower end of the range in industrialized countries like the United States, but a technology like this can easily be used in other parts of the world, and no matter where you are, less crop loss to pests means more food, lower prices paid by consumers, and fewer resources needed to produce a given amount of food,” Conko said.

“In addition, although chemical spray insecticides can be used safely—meaning, with little risk to humans—and though they can be used in a way to minimize the impact on nature, a crop protection technology like this, narrowly targeted to impact only the pest species, is especially welcome because it will have very low risk of effects on non-target organisms, allowing farmers to control diamondback moths with essentially zero unintended side effects,” Conko said.

Regulations Likely to Slow Introduction

The biggest remaining hurdles to commercial introduction of the GMO moth are regulatory, says Conko.

“Theoretically, we could be relatively close to commercialization, because the genetically engineered moths have been studied over multiple generations in the closed environment of a greenhouse, with very promising results, and a recent field study [published in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology] showed positive results as well,” Conko said. “Naturally, you’d like to study the impacts in the field over a couple of additional years to make sure the technology works and lasts over the long run, and to ensure there are no unintended side effects, meaning under normal circumstances, the GMO diamondback moth could be ready for commercial release in three to four years, tops.

“The biggest hurdles to commercialization are not likely to be related to the technology working safely, but due to regulations, because even after extensive safety testing, federal regulators will likely take several additional years before making a decision as to whether the technology can be released commercially,” Conko warns. “As a result it would not be unrealistic to think it could take over a decade before the Oxitec’s modified moth reaches the marketplace.”

Kenneth Artz (kennethcharlesartz@gmx.com) writes from Dallas, Texas.

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