The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has issued guidelines easing norms for research into genetically modified (GM) crops and circumventing challenges of using foreign genes to change crops profile.
- A genetically modified organism (GMO) or living modified organism (LMO), is any organism whose genetic material has been modifiedusing laboratory-based transfer of genetic material from another organism.
- Development of GM cropsstarts with the identification of genes of interest and isolating it from the host organism. The gene is incorporated into the DNA of crop plants using laboratory based gene gun or agrobacterium approaches.
- GM technology involves direct manipulation of DNAinstead of using controlled pollination to alter the desired characteristics. Genetic modification is one the approaches to crop improvement, all of which aim at adding desirable genes and removing undesirable ones to produce better varieties.
- GM crops are permitted for environmental release and cultivation only after undergoing elaborate food and environmental safety assessment under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
- In India, GM seeds require approval of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), a statutorybody under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
- GEAC approval does not mean commercial cultivation, the final decision to allow commercial cultivation is taken by the
- So far, commercial release is granted only for Bt cotton. GM Mustard and Bt Brinjal have been recommended by GEACfor consideration for environmental release and cultivation. But the commercial release has been stalled by the MoEFCC because of concerns related to effects of GM foods.
- Legally, sale, storage, transportation and usage of unapproved GM seeds is a punishable offense under the Rules of Environmental Protection Act 1989.
- Also, sale of unapproved seeds can attract action under the Seed Act of 1966and the Cotton Act of 1957.
- The ‘Guidelines for Safety Assessment of Genome Edited Plants, 2022’exempt researchers who use gene-editing technology to modify the genome of the plant from seeking approvals from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), an expert body of the Environment Ministry. The GEAC evaluates research into GM plants and recommends, or disapproves, their release into farmer fields. The Environment Ministry too has sanctioned this exemption.
- The worry around introducing a gene from a different species into a plant is that these genes may spread to neighboring plants, where such effects are not intended and so their applications have been controversial.
- Gene editing techniques involve altering the function of genes and can cause “large and unintended consequences” that can change the “toxicity and allergenicity” of plants.
- The guidelines are a road map for the development and sustainable use of genome editing technologies in India, specifying the biosafety and/or environmental safety concerns, and describing the regulatory pathways to be adopted while undertaking the genome editing of plants.”
- Genome editing involves the use of technologies that allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome. A well-known technique is called CRISPR-Cas9, which is short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and CRISPR-associated protein 9.
- The guidelines say that all requirements that researchers must adhere to to develop transgenic seedswill apply to gene-edited seeds except clauses that require permission from the GEAC.