ANTI-GE ACTIVISM IN
TARGETS Bt BRINJAL
C Kameswara Rao
for Biotechnology Awareness and Education,
Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco) sought the permission of the Genetic Engineering
Approval Committee (GEAC) of
for large-scale open field trials of eight Bt brinjal hybrids. This threw the anti-tech activists in
into a tizzy. ‘Position papers on Bt brinjal’,
spiced with a lot of pseudo-science have been widely circulated, demanding GEAC’s ban of all transgenics in
. The GEAC placed the biosecurity data provided by Mahyco on their website for public
comment. The propaganda machinery has
now drafted, anti-GE experts/scientists from the US, UK and New Zealand.
egg plant, Solanum melongena) is a vegetable in Asia and
Europe. The original Persian/Arabic name al-bAdhinjAn,
gave rise to, a) with the al, the French name 'aubergine'
derived from Catalan albergínia, and b) without the al, the
Portuguese berinjela, and the Spanish berenjena, which became brinjal in Indian and Sri Lankan English. The samskrith name vatinganah,
produced baingan in Hindi, van(g)kayi in Telugu (-kayi is raw fruit), badanekaryi in Kannada and
similar names in Indian languages.
Centres of Origin of cultivated plants are
determined on a variety of circumstantial evidence, especially on the number
and diversity of related wild species. In most cases there is hardly any sound scientific proof for the
Overall evidence strongly suggests
South America was the Centre of Origin of
the species of the genus Solanum, to which
both potato (Solanum tuberosum)
and brinjal belong.
The exact origin of Solanum melongena is uncertain. It probably originated from the African wild
species Solanum incanum. Solanum melongena was first domesticated in
China, and taken to the Mediterranean region during the Arab
conquests in the 7th century. If brinjal was mentioned in ancient
Indian literature, it only indicates that it was naturalized, having been
long time ago and this in itself is not an evidence of its origin in
Centres of Diversity are determined on the
basis of the number and diversity of related species or varieties in the
wild. The fundamental criterion of
relationship is that two or more species or varieties freely interbreed
producing fertile offspring. The number
and diversity of cultivated varieties of a crop species in a country is not the
basis to determine origin and diversity, as developing such varieties is an
essentially human activity.
A decade or so ago, considerations
of origin and diversity were of some significance in crop plant breeding, to
aid the choice of species/varieties with desirable genes and to produce fertile
hybrids with the cultivated varieties of the related crops. With several techniques of molecular biology
and genetic engineering available now, the relevance of theoretical and
academic inferences on the Centres of Origin and
Diversity has diminished considerably.
Several species of Solanum occur in the wild in
. Cytogeneticists have artificially produced interspecific hybrids of
species of Solanum. It was not so difficult to produce first
generation hybrids, which generally suffered from chromosomal instability and
pollen sterility, hardly resulting in any fertile hybrids.
Random Amplification of
Polymorphic DNA analysis (RAPD, a technique in genome comparisons) shows that Solanum incanum and then Solanum viarum are the closest to Solanum melongena. Solanum incanum and Solanum viarum occur infrequently in the wild in
, but are
hardly sympatric and panmictic with the cultivated
varieties. When artificial hybrids
were produced, the progeny were sterile, leaving no chances for gene flow among
these related species.
In nature, species of Solanum do not normally hybridize, as they are
predominantly (over 90 per cent) self-pollinated. Anthers that open by small apical pores are
the characteristic feature of the genus Solanum,
unlike in many other plant species where the anthers open dehiscing
longitudinally to fully expose the pollen to the air and pollinators. Solanum pollen are sticky and do not travel long distances, even if they
become airborne. Insects visit Solanum flowers but their role in pollination is
There are many cultivated varieties
of brinjal in
, some of which are restricted
to specific regions, as for example the ‘Udupi gulla’ variety of Mangalore. Wild species of Solanum and several cultivated varieties of brinjals co-exist. However, farmers and
scientists are not aware of any hybrids between the two groups and no effort is
made to protect different varieties of cultivated brinjals from hybridizing among themselves or with the wild Solanums.
The floral structure and the
reproductive biology of brinjals and experience in
cultivating them for several centuries in
, do not suggest any possibility
of gene flow from transgenic brinjals to normal brinjals.
The biosecurity of Bt insecticidal proteins in transgenic crops is thoroughly assured by evidence on
the use of Bt pesticides for over 60 years and the cultivation and consumption
of Bt transgenics for a decade. None of the extensive studies on the safety
of Bt proteins conducted in various countries has
indicated any possibility of their being harmful to animals and humans or the
Cry 1 Ac is toxic only under
specific conditions. It is
non-toxic to all organisms with an acidic stomach and with no binding sites for
the crystal protein, which includes all mammals and non-target organisms.
Brinjal fruits are not toxic to
mammals. But, all the other parts of the brinjal palnt are toxic,
due to several alkaloids. Cattle are
not deliberately fed on brinjal plants. Grown under water scarcity, even the fruit
accumulates alkaloids and phenolic compounds, which
give a bitter taste and make the fruit inedible.
Scientific evidence does not
indicate any possibility of Bt brinjals posing serious or unmanageable risks to the farmers, consumers or the
August 10, 2006