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India’s First Herbicide-Tolerant and Non-GM Rice Varieties

India’s First Herbicide-Tolerant & Non-GM Rice Varieties

Context:

  • India gets first herbicide-tolerant & non-GM rice varieties; Pusa Basmati 1979 and Pusa Basmati 1985

Genetically modified rice - Wikipedia

Key Details:

  • The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has developed the country’s first-ever non-GM (genetically modified) herbicide-tolerant rice varieties that can be directly seeded and significantly save water and labour compared to conventional transplanting.

  • This dispenses with the need to prepare nurseries where paddy seeds are first raised into young plants, before being uprooted and replanted 25-35 days later in the main field.

  • The varieties — Pusa Basmati 1979 and Pusa Basmati 1985 — contain a mutated acetolactate synthase (ALS) gene making it possible for farmers to spray Imazethapyr, a broad-spectrum herbicide, to control weeds.

  • These varieties gets herbicide-tolerance through mutation breeding, not GM as there is no foreign gene here.

  • Both Pusa Basmati 1979 and 1985 have been bred by crossing existing popular varieties — Pusa 1121 and Pusa 1509, respectively — with ‘Robin’. The latter is a mutant line derived from Nagina 22, an upland drought-tolerant rice variety.

Why new varieties were needed?

  • Paddy transplantation is both labour- and water-intensive.

  • The field where the seedlings are transplanted has to be “puddled” or tilled in standing water.

  • For the first three weeks or so after transplanting, the plants are irrigated almost daily to maintain a water depth of 4-5 cm.

  • Farmers continue giving water every two-three days even for the next four-five weeks when the crop is in tillering (stem development) stage.

  • Water is a natural herbicide that takes care of weeds in the paddy crop’s early-growth period.

  • The new varieties simply replace water with Imazethapyr.

  • There’s no need for nursery, puddling, transplanting and flooding of fields. These can be sown directly, just like wheat.

  • Imazethapyr, effective against a range of broadleaf, grassy and sedge weeds, can’t be used on normal paddy, as the chemical does not distinguish between the crop and the invasive plants.

  • The ALS gene in rice codes for an enzyme (protein) that synthesises amino acids for crop growth and development.

  • The herbicide sprayed on normal rice plants binds itself to the ALS enzymes, inhibiting their production of amino acids.

  • The new basmati varieties contain an ALS gene whose DNA sequence has been altered using ethyl methanesulfonate, a chemical mutant.

  • As a result, the ALS enzymes no longer have binding sites for Imazethapyr and amino acid synthesis isn’t inhibited.

  • The plants can also now “tolerate” application of the herbicide, and hence it kills only the weeds.

Direct seeding of rice (DSR):

  • Farmers in Punjab and Haryana are already adopting direct seeding of rice (DSR) in response to labour shortages and depleting water tables.

  • This year alone, roughly 6 lakh of the total 44.3 lakh hectares area under paddy in the two states has come under DSR.

  • DSR cultivation is currently based on two herbicides, Pendimethalin (applied within 72 hours of sowing) and Bispyribac-sodium (after 18-20 days).

  • These are costlier than Imazethapyr (Rs 1,500 versus Rs 300/acre).

  • Imazethapyr, moreover, has a wider weed-control range and is safer, as the ALS gene isn’t present in humans and mammals.

  • Even in the herbicide-tolerant rice, the chemical will target only the weeds.

  • DSR is estimated to need 30 per cent less water, save Rs 3,000 per acre in transplantation labour charges, and also 10-15 days’ time due to no nursery preparation.

  • But DSR’s success hinges on an effective herbicide solution — like breeding Imazethapyr-tolerant varieties.

Genetically Modified Seeds:

  • Conventional plant breeding involves crossing species of the same genus to provide the offspring with the desired traits of both parents.

  • Genus is a class of items such as a group of animals or plants with similar traits, qualities or features.

  • Genetic modification aims to transcend the genus barrier by introducing an alien gene in the seeds to get the desired effects.

  • The alien gene could be from a plant, an animal or even a soil bacterium.

  • Bt cotton is the only Genetically Modified (GM) crop that is allowed in India.

  • It has alien genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that allows the crop to develop a protein toxic to the common pest pink bollworm.

  • Herbicide Tolerant Bt (Ht Bt) cotton, on the other hand is derived with the insertion of an additional gene, from another soil bacterium, which allows the plant to resist the common herbicide glyphosate.

  • In Bt brinjal, a gene allows the plant to resist attacks of fruit and shoot borers.

  • In DMH-11 mustard, genetic modification allows cross-pollination in a crop that self-pollinates in nature.

Legal Position of GM crops in India

  • In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for commercial release of GM crops.

  • In 2002, the GEAC had allowed the commercial release of Bt cotton. More than 95% of the country’s cotton area has since then come under Bt cotton.

  • Use of the unapproved GM variant can attract a jail term of 5 years and fine of Rs. 1 lakh under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Source: IE