The environment ministry’s exemption of some genome-edited crop types from bio- safety norms for genetically modified (GM) crops, and the biotechnology department notifying guidelines for safety assessment of such plants, are likely to spur faster development of climate-resilient crop varieties. Sandip Das explains gene- editing technologies and their potential.
Genome editing enables modification of plants’ owned genes, without insertion of external genes, as with GM crops. Genome-edited varieties possess no foreign DNA and are indistinguishable from crops developed through conventional plant-breeding methods, or using naturally occurring mutations.
- The environment ministry in March 2022 exempted SDN 1 and SDN 2 genomes from Rules 7-11 of the Environment Protection Act
- Conventional breeding technique takes 8- 10 years for development of new crop varieties; genome-editing can do this faster
- Genome editing is being used in 25 countries in 40 crops for which partial or complete genome sequence is available.
Genome editing is being used in most crop plants for which partial or complete genome sequence is available and is being applied in around 40 crops across 25 countries. The US and China are leaders in usage of this technology for developing crop varieties like rice, maize, soybean, canola and tomato which withstand biotic and abiotic stresses arising out of climate change.
Impact on domestic crop development
The Indian Council for Agricultural Research has said the technology has great promise and emphasis is needed on improving oilseed and pulse crop varieties resistant to diseases, insects or pests, and tolerant to drought, salinity and heat stresses. Last year, a group of scientists wrote to the PM, for ease of release of the technology.
Faster development of crop varieties
Conventional breeding technique takes eight to 10 years to develop agricultural crop varieties, while through genome editing, it can be done in two to three years. Experts say the technology has promise to reduce import dependence on oilseeds and pulses through faster development of varieties resistant to diseases, pests, and with tolerance to drought, salinity and heat stresses.
Relaxation in rules
The exemption of SDN1 and SDN 2 genomes from Rules 7-11 will help avoid a long approval process through the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee for GM crops. SDN1 and SDN 2 genome editing is being used in Indian labs to breed crops imparting traits like resistance to diseases, drought and salinity stresses.