BT Cotton and BT Brinjal
Controversies regarding BT crops indicate that issues are more concerned to nutrition, yield and public policy rather than beneficial effects of GM crops. Focus should be on reports that have indicated yield increases, pest resistance; economical saving followed by reduced pesticide use and in turn the gift of clean and healthy environment. Keeping broad views in mind, we should be prepared to adopt GMOs for our betterment. Actually it could be the best solution to resolve food crisis in famine affected countries of the world. After all it is in our hands to reap well out of genetic engineering. We have made it is possible to modify the genome then why not our attitudes?
Genetic modifications in the plant, animal or microbial genome by specialized techniques of genetic engineering has made it possible to obtain genetically modified organisms (GMO) organisms. Genetic modification of genome uses techniques like site directed mutagenesis, selective breeding, somaclonal variations, horizontal gene transfer (transgenesis), cisgenesis and their modifications. Basic principle lies in the fact that original genetic composition of genome is changed either by artificial insertion or deletion of genes from same or different species. Plants like tomato, onion, brinjal, cotton, soybean, maize, canola, papaya, alfa-alfa, sugar cane, beet, pepper and cucumber have been genetically modified and commercialized as BT crops.
Characteristics of BT cotton and BT brinjal: Cotton and brinjal were genetically modified to contain toxin produced by bacterial strains of BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) and hence the name BT. Toxin genes of BT were inserted to obtain pest resistant cotton and brinjal varieties and therefore reduced application of pesticides. Field trials confirmed resistance to insect pests like shoot and fruit borers from family Lepidoptera. Before generation of BT crops, Bacillus thuringiensis has been in use as biopesticide in agricultural practices. It has been very effective in controlling the pests of non BT crops which motivated the scientists to use it in creation of BT crops. Expression of toxin in BT crops was very high and it remained confined to plant system. Therefore insects feeding on BT crop were instantly killed. Ultimate reduction in usage of pesticides has also saved money and helped to control adverse effects of pesticides on environment.
Commercialization of BT crops: BT crops are examined for biosafety equivalent to no BT crop at testing laboratories specifically made for BT crops. Testing consists of use of molecular techniques like DNA microarray or multiplex PCRs to screen various GM crops for specific markers and traits. Comparative study for pest resistance, pesticide usage and stress tolerance tests or environmental consequences with non BT crop is carried out via number of in vitro and in vivo analyses. They are checked for persistence of changed traits, viral contamination, performance, yield increase or shelf life. They are assigned PLU or Price Look Up code initiated with digit 8 to be identified as GMO. BT crops/seeds need to be registered with government's plant genetic resources or collection center prior to storage, release or use.
Biosafety issue: Scientists have pointed out possible hazards of transgenic cotton and brinjal along with other BT crops. Risks like crossbreeding of other plant species of natural population or general herbivore population or useful insects like bees, beetles and also to endangered species of insects like Monarch butterflies. It is also assumed that toxin effects would be concentrated in terrestrial or related ecosystems. Toxic effects of BT brinjal such as immunological reactions, tissue damage or organ failures were also observed in experimental mice. On the other hand, there are no reports of toxic effects or allergies induced by eating BT brinjal in human population.
Corporatization and IPR: Corporate world have kept aside biosafety issues for criticism but they have made issue of governmental policies regarding commercialization of BT cotton and brinjal. They have not only blamed governments for not backing commercialization of BT crops but also the scientists involved in development of BT crops for self interest. They have pointed towards low yields of BT crops as compared to normal crops in some cases. Corporate world denied yield increase by plantation of BT cotton and brinjal and labeled the existing yield increase reports as false and manipulated. In doing so, they overlooked wrong agricultural practices or management in cases of low yield of BT crops. It was criticized that BT crops could not meet need of world's hungry population; the matter of overpopulation was deliberately avoided. Some people also suggested that biological diversity and not BT crops are enough to solve world's food crisis. Biosafety protocols and results were also turned down by declaring them unreliable. In market place BT cotton or brinjal like other GM crops were displayed with labels as GM or BT and sold separately with considerable difference in price in such a way that buyers would eventually opt for non BT food. Controversies regarding intellectual property rights (IPR)/patenting issues of BT crops but not hybrid crops have also been a part of heated discussions in corporate and scientific world. If it happens, the losers would be the plant breeders and Corporators relying on each other for benefits by selling hybrid crops or seeds to farmers.
Controversies regarding BT crops indicate that issues are more concerned to nutrition, yield and public policy rather than beneficial effects of GM crops. If the yield was not increased in one in ten applications the reasons could be different and the solution for that needs to be find out instead of making a yield an issue or reason to ban BT crops. Attention should be diverted to the reports that have indicated yield increases, pest resistance, economical saving followed by reduced pesticide use and in turn the gift of clean and healthy environment. Scientists or policy makers or farmers must solve the issues instead of criticizing them towards the misunderstandings. Keeping broad views in mind, we should be prepared to adopt GMOs for our betterment. Actually it could be the best solution to resolve food crisis in feminine affected countries of the world. After all it is in our hands to reap well out of genetic engineering. We have made it is possible to modify the genome then why not our attitudes?
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