Protein-enriched GM potato

Published: Saturday 15 February 2003

Scientists have come up with a home-grown genetically modified (gm) potato. This ubiquitous vegetable has now been fortified with proteins derived from an amaranth (Amaranthus) species through genetic modification. Amaranth is also an edible plant.

While gm cotton and mustard did not quite get a warm welcome in India, the initial response to gm potato has been more positive. The scientific community and non-governmental organisations (ngos) are, by and large, optimistic. It has been developed by the Jawaharlal Nehru University (jnu), New Delhi, and funded by the Department of Biotechnology, under the Union government.

Since the introduced gene is from another edible plant, gm potato is being considered safe for human consumption. Even the genetic diversity of potato is not threatened. Genetic transfer through pollination too is not possible as the tuber is multiplied asexually. But the selling point for this crop remains that it is home-grown.

The amaranth gene was introduced into the potato's genetic material using a bacterium (Agrobacterium tumefaciens). Introduction of AmA1 gene in one of the 48 chromosomes of potato resulted in the production of proteins in large amounts. "Such plants protect children against malnutrition," avers Govindrajan Padmanabhan, professor in the department of biochemistry, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. "It was for this reason that research was undertaken," points out Asis Datta, director, National Centre for Plant Genome Resources, jnu.

Currently, the second phase of field trials is underway. But Suman Sahai, director, Gene Campaign, a Delhi-based ngo, cautions that stringent tests should be conducted before releasing the crop into farms.

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