The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has yet again cleared the proposal for commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) mustard. GEAC functions in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
- GEAC has approved GM mustard for commercial cultivation, paving the way for the country’s first transgenic food crop.
- The GM Mustard is technically called Dhara Mustard Hybrid-11 (DMH-11).
- GEAC’s approval clears the path for commercial seed production of GM mustard and use of the technology to further produce more GM-based mustard hybrid varieties.
About the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee –
- 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.
- It is also responsible for appraisal of proposals relating to release of genetically engineered (GE) organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials.
- This will be the second GM crop after GM cotton that can be commercially cultivated in the country now.
- Across the world, GM variants of maize, canola and soyabean, too, are available.
About the GM Seeds –
- Conventional plant breeding involves crossing species of the same genus to provide the offspring with the desired traits of both parents.
- Genetic engineering 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.
- E.g., Bt cotton has two alien genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
- It allows the crop to develop a protein toxic to the common pest pink bollworm.
- In Bt brinjal, a gene allows the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borer.
- Seeds produced using genetic engineering are called Genetically Modified Seeds.
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.
- Use of the unapproved GM variant can attract a jail term of 5 years and fine of Rs 1 lakh under the Environmental Protection Act.
- Imposes high risks to the disruption of ecosystem and biodiversity.
- Better traits produced through engineered genes favours one organisms over others which can eventually disrupt the natural process of gene flow.
- Leads to creation of foods that can cause an allergic or toxic reaction.
- Increases the cost of cultivation as farmers have to rely on companies for the seeds.
- Inadvertent transfer of genes from one GM plant or animal to another plant or animal might lead to unintended genetic modification harmful to the ecosystem.
- Environmentalists argue that the long-lasting effect of GM crops is yet to be studied and thus they should not be released commercially.
About the GM mustard –
- Scientists at Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) have developed the hybrid mustard DMH-11.
- It contains two alien genes isolated from a soil bacterium called Bacillus amyloliquefaciens.
- Indian scientists improvised the barnase/barster male sterility technique to produce the DMH-11.
- Barnase/barster male sterility technique is 1990s breeding innovation technique pioneered in Belgium.
- Indian scientists arranged the genes in a way that will allow a large number of high yielding varieties of mustard to be developed, which is normally not possible.