New Delhi: Indian scientists have come close to developing seeds that are near-perfect clones of their parents, an innovation that has the potential to usher in “a second green revolution”, said the country’s top scientific administrator.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, or CSIR, India’s apex research and development organization, will now work with its Australian counterpart—the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation—on a $2 million (Rs8.24 crore) project to fully develop these genetically modified seeds, said CSIR director Samir Brahmachari.
Scientists M. Ravi, M.P.A. Marimuthu and Imran Siddiqi of the Hyderabad-basedCentre for Cellular and Molecular Biology have published an article in the March issue of science journal Nature that says a single gene called DYAD, present in pretty much every plant, can be altered to ensure that all the genetic material in the parent plant is transferred pristinely to the next generation. Currently, hybrid seed varieties—developed by crossing plants with desired qualities such as yield, heat and pest resistance—lose their vigour over generations because all the genes from agenetically superior plant variety fail to make it to the next generation. This is the reason why farmers cultivating, say Bt cotton, are forced to go back every season to the seed company, which through multiple, laborious crossings, maintain the pure-bred parental lines.
“We’ve gone a step further by getting a mustard plant (which normally reproduces sexually) to form sex cells that have all the genes of the parent,” said Imran Siddiqi, the lead project investigator. However, he added that “coaxing this to form a full-fledged seed is still years away.”
Though a few plants such as berries and oranges can naturally produce cloned seeds, it’s hard to make sexually reproducing plants—and that includes food crops such as rice and wheat—behave similarly.
“Most importantly, this technology promises to reduce the cost of commercial hybrid seed production and allow farmers to propagate their own hybrid seeds,” India’s science minister Kapil Sibal told reporters at a press conference announcing the Indo-Australian collaboration.
With zooming food prices, declining farm yields and increasingly severe droughts, India and Australia both stand to gain from the project. “We’ve already ensured that intellectual property resulting from such research, will be equally shared among both countries,” said A. Chakraborty, joint adviser at the CSIR’s international science and technology Affairs Directorate.
S.K. Khosla, vice-president of corporate affairs at seed company Syngenta India Ltd, said, “I haven’t seen the article, so I can’t directly comment on this, but if it’s true, it is a welcome step.”
“Farmers are constantly looking for newer varieties. Though expensive, companies are trying to grow the portfolio of their seeds rather than hope that farmers continue to come to them for the same seed again and again. So this research seems promising and welcome,” he said.