A drought-resistant rice variety developed through application of genome-edited technology for the first time in the country, is expected to be available for field evaluation by kharif 2024 and for commercial cultivation by farmers by 2026, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar has said.
The environment ministry and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) have given the sanctions for the field evaluation of genome-edited rice variety during the kharif 2024 season to Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Delhi, Tomar stated in a written reply to Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
The research work is carried out with the approval of institutional biosafety committee constituted by DBT under Environment Protection Act, 1986.
“New variety of rice is expected to improve water use efficiency in paddy cultivation and help farmers in taking up the crops despite rainfall deficiency,” KC Bansal, secretary, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told FE.
This is expected to be the first variety of agricultural crop developed using genome-edited technology to go for commercial release in the next four years in the country.
The government in March had exempted certain types of genome-edited crops from the stringent bio-safety regulations applicable to genetically-modified (GM) crops to ensure wider use of this technology and accelerate genetic improvement of crops in the country.
There are several crops being developed through using genome-edited technology that are in the pipeline for field trial.
The environment ministry, in a notification had exempted site directed nuclease (SDN) 1 and 2 genomes from Rules 7-11 of the Environment Protection Act, thus allowing it to avoid a long process for approval of GM crops through the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
Scientists associated with the Indian Council for Agricultural Research 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
Scientists say that genome-edited plants are different from genetically-modified organisms (GMO) technology. Genome editing is a group of technologies that gives scientists the ability to change an organism’s DNA.
The US and China are leaders in usage of this technology for developing crop varieties like rice, maize, soyabean, canola and tomato which withstand biotic and abiotic stresses arising out of climate change.
Last year, a group of eminent agriculture scientists wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for ease of release of genome-editing technology for the sector.
In the case of GM technology, applicants have to apply to the GEAC, which follows time-consuming testing methods along with states. Till now, cotton is the only GM crop that has been approved for commercial cultivation in the country.