It is honorable moment for Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) and Punjab Agricultural University that laid a great step in Plant biotechnological research in Agricultural History of India.
Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana has announced that it is in the pipeline of releasing India’s first genetically – modified ‘varieties’ of cotton. ICAR has also identified three Bt cotton varieties – PAU Bt 1, F1861 and RS2013 for cultivation in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.
According to inputs from Agricultural ministry more than 90 per cent of cotton cultivated in India are Bt hybrids. The high purchasing cost and inability to reuse seeds are major reasons put forward by farmers regarding constraints to Bt hybrids. But with the introduction of Bt cotton varieties the seeds could be reused by farmers with no restrictions, resulting in less input cost.
Variety vs Hybrid:
“Varieties are stable population that is selected after repeated selfing (self pollination) so that all loci (characters) become homozygous. Hence there will not be segregation (changes) in the characters (like yield and vigourness) in next generations. On a contrary, in case of hybrids, only the seeds of first generation can be used for cultivation. For production of hybrid seeds, two parents of distantly related (genetically) are crossed to produce the hybrid with high vigour. One can’t expect same vigour or character upon using of hybrid seeds for subsequent generations.” says Ramsankar, Post graduate Biotechnology student of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.
The Genetic engineering procedure of introduction of Bt Bacterial gene (cry gene) is same for developing both varieties and hybrids. For producing Bt hybrids the parents used for crossing are independently engineered with the transgene. As like other conventional varieties, varietal detoriation or change in varietal characters is also common in Bt variety due to environmental factors. So the agricultural institutions recommend farmers to purchase the original varietal seeds from the seller once in few years in order to get the actual yield as claimed by the breeder.
When questioned about delay in releasing of varieties comparing to hybrids, “Seed industries invest huge amounts in developing Bt crops. If it is released as hybrid surety of return is guaranteed as farmers look back towards them every season for seeds. If they release as variety their profitability is under question as farmers can use their own harvest for next year sowing. Hence companies always prefer to release their products as hybrids. It is fortunate that public institutions without profit motive are coming up with Bt varieties, at least now.” said Ramsankar.
New path for GM crops
The high cost of Bt hybrid seeds and indiscriminate profits made by Multinational companies are most common charge of Anti- GMO groups and farmers who are against Bt crops. Development of Bt variety by Government institutions will clear away these remarks by distributing low cost reusable Bt seeds with no commercial interests. This will set up new way for other Bt food crops in India. Increased budgetary allocation for Research and Development in government agricultural research institutions and building confidence among farmers and consumers will open Biotechnology enabled farming as like other developing countries China, Brazil and the neighbour Bangladesh.