Cornell researchers help develop first genetically modified food crop in South Asia

The field trial was conducted at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Dharward, Karnataka.
According to the researchers, pest-resistant eggplant may become the first genetically engineered food crop in South Asia by 2009.

The engineered eggplant expresses a natural insecticide derived from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which makes it resistant to the fruit and shoot borer (FSB), a highly destructive pest that accounts for up to 40 per cent of eggplant crop losses each year in India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and other areas of South and Southeast Asia.

Sathguru and Cornell are handling the project on the resistant eggplant as part of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP) II, which is funded by the US Agency for International Development. The work on the resistant eggplant began in 2002.

“Cornell has worked effectively to facilitate a productive partnership between the public and private sectors that will make this technology available to eggplant producers at every economic level,” said Ronnie Coffman, international professor of plant breeding and genetics and director of International Programs in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

“In five years, with support from Sathguru and Cornell, our partners were able to bring this flagship program to field trials and get food, feed and environmental safety approvals,” added K.V. Raman, Cornell professor of plant breeding.

So far, the eggplant has been found to be non-toxic as well as non-allergenic in tests on fish, chickens, rabbits, goats, rats, and cattle.

In the ongoing tests, the researchers are trying to determine whether the plant will continue to resist FSB in the field and for how long. They also want to see whether the Bt eggplant cross-pollinates with other eggplants in the field, and how far the Bt plants should be from other eggplant fields.

They believe that the Bt eggplant will reduce insecticide use by 30 percent while doubling the yield of marketable fruit, although eggplant is eaten as a vegetable.

The researchers also believe that Indian and Bangladesh together will plant 110,000 acres of the FSB-resistant eggplant commercially by the end of 2010, and 650,000 acres by 2015.

Economists from Cornell and other institutions say that the Bt eggplant would result in lower prices for consumers, higher yields for farmers, and boost the Indian economy by 411 million dollars and Bangladeshi economy by 37 million dollars by 2015.

“In spite of the green revolution in India, agricultural growth has stagnated there to less than 2 percent per year. It is important for a land-grant university like Cornell to be engaged in the improvement of technologies and help create a road map that leads to agricultural and economic growth in places like South and Southeast Asia and Africa,” said Raman. (ANI)

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