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Tremendous Scope for Vertical Growth in Biotech Crops
G. ChandrashekharMay 9, 2008
MUMBAI, India - With trials of India´s first genetically modified (GM) food crop, Bt. Brinjal (insect-tolerant vegetable), progressing well, the anti-biotechnology lobby seems to have become active.

Those opposed to biotechnology in agriculture are spreading disinformation, according to Dr Usha B. Zehr, Joint Director of Research with Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd (MAHYCO), pioneer in, brinjal the country´s foray into agbiotech.

Indeed, Bt. Brinjal is not the first GM vegetable crop. Globally, as many as 23 vegetable crop species (excluding potato and sweet corn) have been genetically engineered. China grows tomato, papaya, petunia and sweet pepper, while the US grows squash (a variety of gourd) and papaya.

Currently, over a dozen biotech crops are being field-tested in different parts of the world. These include three major staples (rice, maize and wheat) as also potato, tomato, soyabean, cabbage, peanut, melon, papaya, sweet pepper, chilli and rapeseed.

China´s agbiotech
Talking about China´s advances into agbiotech, Dr Zehr said the country has planted about one quarter of a million Bt. Poplars and in 2006, started to commercialise an approved virus-resistant biotech papaya (a fruit/food crop) developed by a Chinese university and grown on approximately 3,500 hectares.

A virus-resistant sweet pepper and delayed ripening tomato have also been approved for commercialisation, she pointed out. China is the world´s largest producer and consumer of rice (over 125 million tonnes a year) and has the world´s largest biotech rice programme.

There are an estimated 110 million rice households in China farming an average of 0.27 hectares of rice each. China´s biotech rice is resistant to specific pests (insect borers) and diseases (bacterial blight) and is awaiting approval after extensive field trials, the scientist asserted, adding evidence suggests that the biotech crop reduces insecticide application by 80 per cent or 17 kilograms per hectare.

India situation
Interestingly, India is the world´s second largest rice producer (after China ) with output of about 94 million tonnes. Planted in about 45 million hectares, paddy yields are on an average 3.5 tonnes a hectare, equivalent to roughly 2 tonnes of milled rice. China´s paddy yields are far superior at about 6 tonnes a hectare or over 3.6 tonnes.

Cultivation of rice in smallholdings is common to both the countries. If India has to remain self-sufficient in rice, yields have to be raised. There is tremendous scope and need for vertical growth.

According to Dr Zehr, last year (2007 was the 12th year of biotech farming), 120 million farmers in 23 countries grew biotech crops on 114.3 million hectares.

Cotton experience
India´s experience with Bt. Cotton has been positive. Cotton output has gone up from about 17 million bales in 2001 to over 30 million bales in 2007. As a result, India has turned into a cotton exporter.

Bt. Cotton is now grown in over half the planted area of about 9 million hectares. That should provide sufficient motivation and support to accelerate infusion of more biotech products, especially at a time when a food crisis looms large, Dr Zehr said.

Copyright Sify Ltd, 1998-2006 | Source: Sify
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The latest issue of Plant Physiology (July 2008; Volume 147, Issue 3) has a special section on next generation of biotech crops especially on nutritional improvement.  These papers can
be downloaded free!

Influence of Transgenosis on the Plant-Insect- Relationships, in Particular on Chemically       Mediated Interactions

Effect of Transgenes Conferring Enhanced Pathogen Resistance on the Interaction with Symbiotic        Fungi in Rice

Impact on the Soil Ecosystem through Natural and Genetically Engineered Organisms:
      Effects, Methods and Definition of Damage as Contribution to Risk Assessment

The Decomposition of Bt-Corn on the Fields and its Impact on Earthworms and on other        Macroorganisms in the Soil

Environmental Post-market Monitoring of Bt-maize:
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