Maharashtra has made it mandatory for Bt cotton seed companies in the state to submit seed samples, which they wish to sell in the market, to government- approved laboratories for getting them tested in order to obtain sale licenses. According to top officials, seed companies will need to get the DNA and DUS tests done and submit the acknowledgement from the laboratories to the agriculture department for obtaining licenses. The step has been taken to prevent the sale of illegal varieties in the market, according to MS Gholap, director of agriculture, inspection and quality control ( I&QC). Gholap pointed out that there are three agriculture universities in the state that conducts such tests in addition to the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur and National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) , Pune. "Seed companies should submit the samples which they wish to bring to the market for testing and obtain acknowledgments from the laboratory since this is a time consuming procedure. Once the acknowledgement is shown to the department, the seed companies are eligible to receive a license to sell these varieties in the market," he told FE. DUS testing is a way of determining whether a newly bred variety differs from existing varieties within the same species (the distinctness part), whether the characteristics used to establish distinctness are expressed uniformly (the uniformity part) and that these characteristics do not change over subsequent generations (the stability part). DNA markers are used for assessing the genetic purity. Around 30 seed companies in the state sell 100 varieties of Bt cotton seeds worth around Rs 1,000 crore. The government intends to keep a strict check on seed companies with this step following several pesticide poisoning related deaths in Yavatmal district since July last year and the pink bollworm attack on the crop. The state government formed a special investigation team (SIT) to probe companies that have sold unapproved Bt cotton seeds with a Herbicide Tolerant (HT) transgenic gene. The SIT, a resolution for which was passed on 7 February by the state government, has been asked to identify the causes that led to rampant sale of seeds with the HT transgenic gene along with approved Bt cotton seeds and recommend measures to prevent similar violations in future. Last season, there were instances of some 30-35 lakh packs of illegal varieties of Bt cotton being sold in the market. The state government had then decided to recommend an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the illegal sale of herbicide-tolerant (HT) Bt cotton seeds in the state, linking them to the deaths in Yavatmal.