The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has issued guidelines easing norms for research into genetically modified (GM) crops and circumventing challenges of using foreign genes to change crops profile.
What are the new guidelines?
- Under the new guidelines, the researchers who use gene-editing technology to modify the genome of the plant are exempt from seeking approvals from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
- The guidelines define various categories of genome edited plants and determine regulatory requirements for appropriate categories and provide the regulatory framework and scientific guidance on data requirement in context of development of these crops.
- The guidelines provide a roadmap for the development and sustainable use of GE technologies for plants in India, specifying the biosafety concerns, and describing the regulatory pathways to be adopted while undertaking GE of plants.
- The guidelines say that all requirements that researchers must adhere to develop transgenic seeds, will apply to gene-edited seeds except clauses that require permission from the GEAC.
What is a ‘transgenic seed’?
- Transgenic means that one or more DNA sequences from another species have been introduced by artificial means.
- The aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species.
What is Genome Editing?
- Genome is the complete genetic information of an organism and genome editing is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted, modified or replaced in the genome of a living organism.
- Genome editing targets the insertions to site specific locations.
- The applications of genome editing technology include crop improvement, enhancement of crop nutrition, crop protection, biofuels, pharmaceuticals, and other high-value secondary metabolites & nutraceuticals.
About the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) –
- The GEAC functions under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
- As per Rules, 1989, it is responsible for appraisal of activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.
- In India, all activities related to Genetically Engineered organisms (GE organisms) are regulated as per the “Manufacture, Use/Import/Export and Storage of Hazardous microorganisms/GE organisms Rules, 1989” notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
- The committee is also responsible for appraisal of proposals relating to release of genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials.
- The committee or any persons authorised by it has powers to take punitive action under the Environment Protection Act.
- Composition – The committee is chaired by the Special Secretary/Additional Secretary of the MoEF&CC. Members of the committee are representatives of the concerned agencies and departments, namely, Ministry of Industrial Development, Department of Biotechnology and the Department of Atomic Energy.