Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Jun 11, 2003
Bio-tech & Genetics
Agri-Biz & Commodities - Bio-tech & Genetics
Ambar Singh Roy
A SILENT revolution is brewing within the four walls of what used to be the official residence of the jailor of the Hijli Jail at Kharagpur, within the premises of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT-KGP) and behind the old administrative headquarters of the institute. Therein, a group of seven scientists headed by Prof S.K. Sen, a biotechnologist who has headed a number of prominent teams is engaged in transgenic research. The research is towards generation of application-oriented end products in the Genetically Modified (GM) domain.
Transgenic research involves the transfer of genes from one organism to another even as the focus of the GM domain is on designed alteration of the genetic make-up of an organism and where it is inherited by the recipient in a stable manner.
Facilitating their research is a field laboratory and a containment facility. All under the umbrella of IIT-BREF Biotek, which is administered and finacially controlled by IIT-KGP.
The focus of the research team, entirely self-financed by project grants, is on areas such as agri-biotechnology, industrial enzymes, microbial technology and plant biotechnology. From genetically-engineered organisms from plants to microbes, the idea is to generate value-added new products that have commercial use and utility. A total of 11 projects from the UNDP, the Rockfeller Foundation, the Department of Biotechnology of the Government of India, the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research and Indian corporates have been taken up.
Says Prof Sen, Head of IIT-BREF Biotek, "It is imperative now to channel our energies towards application and commercially-oriented biotechnology.'' In a firm defence of GM domain-centric technology and applications, he says that the bacterial toxin Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) "is an insecticidal toxin which is innocuous to any other organ except its targeted application.'' Bt Cotton is an example that can be cited in this regard.
According to him, GM technology is"scientically-proven'' and its widespread application would only subserve the interest of humankind globally, especially in pharmaceuticals and agriculture. In China, for example, over 100 different types of farmlands will switch over to GM technology by 2004. As such, despite conflict among scientists and opposition to GM technology in some quarters, the technology itself should not be pushed aside, he says. An international protocol on safeguards already exists and specified safety measures are in place.
Despite this, a section of the scientific community feels that the toxin has not been tested enough and can have a residual impact on future generations.
However, since the Bt gene is application-specific, it does not alter the agronomic properties of any crop plants. In fact, GM takes into account all aspects of technology i.e. toxicological, nutritional, agronomic, cost-effectiveness and all this with regard to various agro-climatic conditions, he says.
"With GM technology and its applications, we can specifically recommend that this is not suitable for one place and suitable for another''.
Says Prof Sen, "We, as a nation, are not technologically bankrupt. But technology cannot progress unless we take it from the grassroots level to the application level. For this, it is imperative for the business community to have adequate and appropriate confidence in the scientific community.'' Adds Arindam Dutta, IIT-BREF Biotek's Co-ordinator, Industry-Institute Partnership, "From the research laboratory point of view, we feel that, for technology to be scaled up, there is a need for hand-holding of industry on a continual basis.''
The focus, in the days ahead, will be on new areas such as insect resistants, early flowering, modified fatty acids composition in vegetable oils, hybrid seed production through transgenic means, pathogen-resistant croplands and nutritionally value-added fruits, among others. GM-centric work is also being done on rice and cotton, besides mustard, chickpea, pigeonpea and jute.
According to Prof Sen, the long-term objective of the research team "is to get into the excitement of contemporary science and scientific developments and reap the benefits of its commercial application''.
If the enthusiam of Prof Sen and his team is any indication, that should not be a very tall order.
Stories in this Section
The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | The Hindu eBooks | Home |
Copyright © 2003, The
Hindu Business Line. Republication or redissemination of the contents of
this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of
The Hindu Business Line