Pental panel questions Mahyco Bt brinjal process

New Delhi, Oct 9 | Updated: Oct 10 2006, 05:30am hrs
It seems that the seed company, Mahyco, may have to face difficulties in getting approval for the field trials of its four Bt brinjal hybrids. The expert panel, headed by Delhi University vice-chancellor Deepak Pental to assess the Mahycos claims and the concerns raised by NGOs, farmers and consumers groups, has started questioning the process of development of the companys Bt brinjal hybrids and their impact.

The 13-member panel was set up by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). It has questioned the marker-assisted process for development of Bt brinjal. Mahyco, in collaboration with the seed multinational, Monsanto has inserted Cry 1 Ac (Bt gene) with the help of marker NPTLL and plant virus promoter gene CaMV 35 S through agro-bacterium process of transformation.

In this context, the Pental panel has questioned as to why the company did not use more advanced technology of insertion of gene without the help of markers.

We have also asked Mahyco to clarify the impact of the inserted gene, said a member of the panel. Mahyco had sought largescale field trials for its four Bt brinjal hybrids namely MHB-4 Bt, MHB-9 Bt, MHB-80 Bt and MHBJ-99 Bt. It has claimed that these four Bt brinjal hybrids are resistant to fruit and stem borer, a major pest occurring on the crop. The development of Bt brinjal is part of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program-II (ABSP-II) funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by Cornell University.

Under ABSP-II, operational in India and Bangladesh in the South Asian region, the Bt technology has been transferred to a number of public and private agencies in the network.

The Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU) has developed Bt brinjal and has planned to ask for permission for its field trials in early 2007. TNAUs centre for molecular biology has chosen four elite brinjal genotypes keeping regional preference of brinjal types in the mind. These elite genotypes - CO2, KKM1, MDU1 and PLR1 - are backcrossed to ingress cry 1 Ac gene. Currently we are generating BC3F1 seeds.

There are, however, more troubles ahead for the countrys first proposed food crop, Bt brinjal. The Supreme Court in its interim verdict in a writ filed by Aruna Rodrigues and other has asked GEAC not to allow any further approval for field trials of any genetically modified (GM) crop, till further orders. The writ petition has urged for a moratorium on GM crops.