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DAILY NEWS ANALYSIS

  • 23 June, 2021

  • 15 Min Read

Assam planted the World's first-ever genetically modified rubber plant

World’s first GM Rubber plant in Assam

  • A Rubber Board research farm on the outskirts of Guwahati now sports the world’s first genetically modified (GM) rubber plant tailored for the climatic conditions in the Northeast.
  • The GM rubber has additional copies of the gene MnSOD, or manganese-containing superoxide dismutase, inserted in the plant, which is expected to tide over the severe cold conditions during winter — a major factor affecting the growth of young rubber plants in the region.
  • The plant was developed at the Kerala-based Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII).
  • RRII had earlier developed two high-yielding hybrid clones of rubber adapted to the climatic conditions of the Northeast.
  • This is the first time any GM crop has been developed exclusively for this region after years of painstaking research in RRII’s biotechnology laboratory.
  • Natural rubber is a native of warm humid Amazon forests and is not naturally suited for the colder conditions in the Northeast, which is one of the largest producers of rubber in India.

What is Genetic Engineering?

  • Through genetic engineering, scientists are able to move desirable genes from one plant or animal to another or from a plant to an animal or vice versa.
  • In essence, genetic engineering is a technology wherein a specific gene can be selected and implanted into the recipient organism.
  • The process of genetic engineering involves splicing an area of a chromosome, a gene, that controls a certain characteristic of the body. For example:
  • A gene may be reprogrammed to produce an antiviral protein.
  • A gene can be removed and can be placed into a bacterial cell where it can be sealed into the DNA chain using ligase.

Genetically Modified Seeds:

  • Conventional plant breeding involves crossing species of the same genus to provide the offspring with the desired traits of both parents.
  • Genus is a class of items such as a group of animals or plants with similar traits, qualities or features.
  • Genetic modification aims to transcend the genus barrier by introducing an alien gene in the seeds to get the desired effects. The alien gene could be from a plant, an animal or even a soil bacterium.
  • Bt cotton is the only Genetically Modified (GM) crop that is allowed in India. It has alien genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that allows the crop to develop a protein toxic to the common pest pink bollworm.
  • Herbicide Tolerant Bt (Ht Bt) cotton, on the other hand is derived with the insertion of an additional gene, from another soil bacterium, which allows the plant to resist the common herbicide glyphosate.
  • In Bt brinjal, a gene allows the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borers.
  • In DMH-11 mustard, genetic modification allows cross-pollination in a crop that self-pollinates in nature.

Legal Position of GM crops in India

  • In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for commercial release of GM crops.
  • In 2002, the GEAC had allowed the commercial release of Bt cotton. More than 95% of the country’s cotton area has since then come under Bt cotton.
  • Use of the unapproved GM variant can attract a jail term of 5 years and fine of Rs. 1 lakh under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee

  • The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) functions under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
  • It is responsible for the appraisal of activities involving large-scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.
  • The committee is also responsible for the appraisal of proposals relating to the release of genetically engineered (GE) organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials.
  • GEAC is chaired by the Special Secretary/Additional Secretary of MoEF&CC and co-chaired by a representative from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).

Advantages of Genetic Engineering

  • Genetically Modified (GM) Crops: Genetic engineering made it possible to create crop varieties regarded as “more beneficial” terms of coming up with crops with the desired traits.
  • Examples- Bt Cotton
  • Treatment of Genetic Disorders and Other Diseases: Through genetic engineering, genetic disorders may also be fixed by replacing the faulty gene with a functional gene.
  • Disease-carrying insects, such as mosquitoes, may be engineered into becoming sterile insects.
  • This will help in curbing the spread of certain diseases, e.g. malaria and dengue fever.
  • Therapeutic Cloning: It is a process whereby embryonic cells are cloned to obtain biological organs for transplantation.

Challenges of Genetic Engineering:

  • Irreversible Changes: Some scientists believe that introducing genetically-modified genes may have an irreversible effect with consequences yet unknown.
  • GMO that can cause harmful genetic effects, and genes moving from one species to another that is not genetically engineered.
  • It has been shown that GMO crop plants can pass the beneficial gene along to a wild population which may affect the biodiversity in the region. An example is the sunflowers genetically-engineered to fend off certain insects.
  • Health Issues Related with GMO Crops: There are concerns over the inadvertent effects, such as the creation of food that can cause an allergic reaction.
  • Bioethics: Genetic engineering borderlines on many moral and ethical issues. One of the major questions raised is if humans have the right to manipulate the laws and course of nature.

Dangers Associated With Genetic Engineering:

  • Rapid Growth of Technology: Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) gene editing, developed only a few years ago, deploys the same natural mechanism that bacteria use to trim pieces of genetic information from one genome and insert it into another.
  • This mechanism, which bacteria developed over millennia to defend themselves from viruses, has been turned into a cheap, simple, quick way to edit the DNA of any organism in the lab.
  • CRISPR isn’t the only genetic technology we need to worry about. A broader field, “synthetic biology”, is making the tools for genetic engineering widely available.
  • Democratisation of Biotechnology: As CRISPR is cheap and easy to use, thousands of scientists all over the world are experimenting with CRISPR-based gene editing projects with very little of this research being limited by regulations.
  • The technologies have democratised to such a degree that any country can engineer viruses.
  • Further, the danger comes not only from governments: Non-state actors, rogue scientists and bio-hackers have access to the same tools.
  • Also, researchers have demonstrated that they can recreate deadly viruses such as that of smallpox, which took humanity decades to eradicate

Solutions:

  • Leveraging Artificial Intelligence & Big Data. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) and genomic data, scientists will decipher the complex relationships between DNA and biological processes and find treatments for diseases.
  • 3-D printing can help develop at home medicines, tissues, and bacteria custom-designed to suit our DNA and keep us healthy.
  • Gathering of Genomic Data: There is a need to develop genomic blueprints of human and other species, this information can help immensely to defend and develop vaccines against pandemics like Covid-19.

About Bt Cotton

  • Bt cotton is the only transgenic crop that has been approved by the Centre for commercial cultivation in India.
  • It has been genetically modified to produce an insecticide to combat the cotton bollworm, a common pest.
  • The HTBt cotton variant adds another layer of modification, making the plant resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, but has not been approved by regulators.
  • Fears include glyphosate having a carcinogenic effect, as well as the unchecked spread of herbicide resistance to nearby plants through pollination, creating a variety of superweeds.

Source: TH


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