Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Jun 29, 2005
Agri-Biz & Commodities
Bio-tech & Genetics
Focus shifts to drought-tolerant, health providing GM crops
St. Louis (US) , June 28
AS genetically modified (GM) crops gain acceptance among farmers, the focus has now turned to development of varieties that are drought-tolerant and those that can deliver health benefits.
"The focus has clearly turned to using biotechnology to derive crops that can sustain themselves in times of drought. Also, research is on to ensure plants contain less or no mycotoxins, which are carcinogic and less transfatty acids," says Dr Eric Sachs, who is in charge of scientific affairs at Monsanto. Researchers at the Donald Danforth Science Center for plant research agree that such experiments have not gathered pace. "This does not mean that such crops will be out in the market tomorrow. Research is on and it could take 5-10 years to reach the results of laboratory to land," say scientists at the centre.
At Donald Danforth Center, one of the Indian-related research that is currently on is to produce a rice variety that is rich in folic acid, which can rectify malnutrition problems and be a good source of nutrition for lactating mothers. Another experiment of relevance to developing nations, particularly Africa, is to develop a cassava (tapioca) variety that can withstand the mosaic virus. "Cassava is an important food source for Africa and this research will go a long way in ensuring food sufficiency in that continent," scientists say.
Research personnel, both in the private and public sectors, assure that all these developments would be safe for human consumption and environment-friendly. "Our crops derived from biotechnology are approved by the US Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environment Protection Agency," says Dr Sachs.
According to Dr John P. Purcell, Global Leader, Scientific Affairs, Monsanto, research in biotechnology crops has broadened to control pests that are hard to kill through pesticide or have developed immunity to such chemicals. "In fact, the research is currently on to provide farmers a combination of various factors in the crop," he says.
In the pipeline are soyabean that have low linolenic acid, corn that have high lysine content and essential amino acids and corns with high oil content. "There are a number of companies that are working on drought-tolerant and stress-tolerant varieties," Dr Purcell says.
Monsanto officials say that following the success in introducing Bollgard Bt cotton in India, efforts are now on to introduce a superior Bollgard II variety. "Greenhouse trials are on to introduce Bt corn also," an official said.
According to the Biotechnology Industry Organisation Guide for 2005-06, area under Bt cotton in India witnessed a 400 per cent rise between 2003 and 2004 to 1.2 million acres. It is the highest growth recorded by any country during the year, with Brazil registering a 66 per cent growth in coverage of genetically modified crops.
On genetically modified products that could hit the market within six years, it says the list extends to apples, bananas and wheat. The organisation says DuPont is developing a glyphosate resistant crop. Monsanto, on the other hand, has developed an Alfalfa (fodder) crop that allows application of herbicide to kill weeds while it grows, and apples that have in-built resistance against codling moth.
There are at least seven varieties of GM corn in the pipeline, including ones that nutritionally enhances, three varieties of corn and two strains of soyabean."As acceptance of biotechnology crop grows, we will see the research widen to ensure that yield increases without any increase in the arable area," says Dr Purcell.
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