Talking to FE, K Vijayaraghavan, director, Sathguru Management, said that it is being conducted in a public-private partnership with state agricultural universities and private companies. The engineered eggplant expresses a natural insecticide derived from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), making it resistant to the fruit and shoot borer (FSB), a highly destructive pest. The tiny larvae account for up to 40% of eggplant crop losses each year in India, Bangladesh and the Philippines, slong with other areas of South and Southeast Asia.
Cornell researchers from plant breeding, entomology, molecular biology, applied economics, communication, international programmes and the Cornell Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialisation began collaborating on the development of the Bt eggplant in 2002. Another partner, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds, is on schedule to commercialise the genetically modified fruit by 2009.
Safety tests for the Bt eggplant are being conducted in India, starting in greenhouses and
now moving to large-scale field trials.
The eggplant, a 120-day plant, has been found to be nontoxic to fish, chickens, rabbits, goats, rats and cattle as well as non-allergenic. It is estimated that the Bt eggplant will reduce insecticide use by 30% while doubling the yield.