GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MUSTARD IN
EFFORT IN DEVELOPING GE BRASSICAS.
C Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education,
The success of North America and
in developing GE Canola using the barnase/barstar gene system, gave an impetus to develop GE mustards in
GE Brassicas in
ProAgro a private seed company in
, obtained from
, a high yielding GE mustard based on the barnase/barstar gene system, in 1966. After several years’ of back crossing with
the Indian varieties, ProAgro was permitted by the
Review Committee for Genetic Manipulation (RCGM), to conduct field trials at 50
locations in Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh,
Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, with seven entries of three GE test hybrids and
four check varieties for comparison. The field trials were co-ordinated by the
Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which submitted a report to the
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). However, ProAgro’s application for
commercialization of the high yielding GE mustard got caught in procedure and
there ever so many new questions each time in the GEAC, leading to
protracted delays. ProAgro got frustrated and withdrew its application.
Apart from Pro-Agro’s aborted attempt, the following Brassica crops are in
In collaboration with Monsanto and Michigan State University,
and under the support of the
agency for International Development
(USAID), the Tata Energy Resources Institute, New
Delhi (TERI), has been developing since 2000, a GE mustard variety with high
levels of β-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), using Monsanto’s technology.
The Indian Agricultural Research
is developing a water-stress resistant mustard variety, with genes CodA and Osmotin and one with Bt
Cry 1Ac for pest resistance.
Delhi, South Campus (UDSC) and the
National Research Centre for Weed Science,
Jabalpur, are using
the barnase/barstar system to improve the yield in
mustard. On October 13, 2006, the Supreme Court of India
permitted the UDSC to go ahead with field trials, an exception to its earlier
directive to the GEAC to stop new field trials until
Bt Cry1Ac containing pest resistant
varieties are being developed in cauliflower (Mahyco and Sungrow Seeds) and cabbage (Sungrow Seeds).
ProAgro’s field data:
The aborted attempt of ProAgro in commercializing a high yielding GE mustard has, however, provided extensive field data that can be of
immense use to others in the field.
Pollen drift and gene flow in GE
Cross pollination studies were
conducted in Haryana for two seasons (2001 and 2002),
on the Indian GE mustard by ProAgro. The RCGM reported that the extent of gene
flow was assessed on the basis of the percentage of survivors on spraying the
herbicide Basta, on the border rows of about 2500
non-GE mustard plots. It was reported
that the mean survival, an indicator of gene flow, was 0.1 per cent at five
meters, 0.02 per cent at 10 meters and zero anywhere from 15 to 150
meters. The conclusion is that the risk
of gene flow from GE to non-GE mustard was minuscule and has no significant
biological or environmental impact.
Pollen drift becomes significant,
only if the drifted pollen were viable, produced viable seed that resulted in
fertile offspring. Mere pollen drift
does not mean gene transfer. Even if
there was gene flow, it is of no consequence because the introduced gene
system, where herbicide resistance gene is linked with male sterile plants,
causes production of only sterile pollen incapable of fertilization. A two-year study of herbicide tolerant
(Science, 2002) confirmed this. The
prescribed acceptable levels of GE component in non-GE canola seeds (less than
one percent), has never been crossed.
Seed and oil yield of GM mustard in
In 2002, the RCGM reported that ProAgro’s test hybrids yielded 19 to 24 per cent more seed,
containing about 15 per cent more oil, than the check varieties.
December 2, 2006