Innovation has been the foundation of major agricultural advancements that have improved food security in India. While the 1960s saw high-yield dwarf crop varieties enter breeding research, the Green Revolution scaled up breeding for commodity crops to a whole new level, and a focus on agronomic crop management practices backed by government policies pushed Indian agriculture towards a new era of development. In recent years, the focus has shifted to high-yielding and high-value crop production, and ways to advance the field of breeding have been sought. However, while other parts of the world have adopted genome editing as a tool to tackle this challenge, India has until recently been held back by regulatory red tape.
What is genome editing?
Genome editing is a popular method used to make changes to an organism’s DNA. In agriculture, it has been used to design and develop crop varieties with improved disease resistance, climate resilience, and nutritional quality. Popular tools for genome editing include the CRISPR-Cas system, TALENs, and Zinc finger nucleases. These tools have been shown to be successful in the development of improved crop varieties. Several genome-edited (GE) commodity and specialty crops have been developed and deployed globally, including herbicide-resistant soybean and corn, non-browning mushrooms, and high-yielding tomatoes. High-nutrition rice, wheat, mustard, and millets have also been developed. From an economic standpoint, the cost of developing genome-edited crops is comparable to that of traditional breeding and the process could even be faster. The process allows for the improvement of crop varieties that can be designed to adapt to an array of growing conditions, taking a big step forward in terms of food security, especially with respect to generating food in areas where demand is the highest.
GE crops are different from traditional GMOs
Unfortunately, gaining public acceptance of GE products has been challenging because they are often categorized as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a designation that includes transgenic crops created through the insertion of foreign DNA. Additionally, due to a lack of scientific awareness, there have been concerns about carcinogenicity, antibiotic resistance, and nutritional defects resulting from GMOs. While GE crops do not feature foreign DNA, confusion between GEs and GMOs has led to a dip in popularity among consumers and hampered adoption in India. If the categorization confusion between GE crops and transgenic crops can be overcome through increased awareness, GE products have the potential to be better accepted by consumers.
What is the future of GE technology in India?
The adoption of genome editing for crop improvement has the potential to bring India into the epicenter of international trade in agricultural products. It will also provide great opportunities for the government to push toward making India a global seed hub. Small stakeholder farmers will benefit immensely from high-quality seed development, resulting in higher agricultural returns. However, this is only possible as the government now revises its regulation of GE crops and provides incentives to better promote genome-editing research in India. It is also imperative that authorities work to raise awareness of the scientific principles behind GE technology so that GE crops are accepted by farmers and consumers alike.
STUDENT (SE ECS)
Nikita Kamashetty Jewargi