INDIA’S Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has rejected a request by University of Agricultural Sciences in Bengaluru to conduct trials on transgenic groundnuts for commercial development in difficult terrain. The university wanted to conduct trials for drought and salt tolerance.
GEAC noted that transgenic groundnut expresses transcription factors— proteins that bind to specific DNA sequences—namely DREB2A, DREB1A, DREB1B and PDH45, to improve its stress tolerance. DREB2A and PDH45 have a DNA strand called GusA in their expression cassettes which should not be released into the environment, the committee said. GusA is a so-called reporter gene, generally used to determine whether a gene of interest has been expressed into the targeted plant genome. Studies are yet to prove whether this gene is safe for human consumption.
With regards to DREB1A and DREB1B groundnut transgenics, GEAC approved the request for trial. The committee though cautioned the university of complexities associated with transcription, particularly toxicity. GEAC did not approve trial of DREB2A and PDH45 groundnut transgenics for eventual commercial development. But it okayed them for study and clinical purposes. The members of GEAC said that biosafety issues with respect to such transgenic crops need to be further discussed and guidelines for biosafety testing need to be developed.
Pushpa M Bhargava, the Supreme Court appointee to GEAC, applauded the decision, saying, “I am glad that GEAC has started functioning responsibly.” He added that withholding commercial development and allowing laboratory experiments is a wise move. A senior scientist, asking not to be named, revealed many institutes in India, including the Central Rice Research Institute in Cuttack, University of Delhi, Osmania University, Dr Y S Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry in Solan (HP) and Monsanto Research Centre in Bengaluru, are working on the GusA.
Jai Krishna of Greenpeace India welcomed GEAC’s decision of not allowing development of some transgenics on the basis of future health risks. He said GEAC should review Bt cotton and complete assessments on the impact of Bt Brinjal before approving any open-air field trial of GM crops.
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