Nigeria on track to commercialize GMO cowpeas, rice, sorghum, corn and cotton

The Biosafety Bill was signed into law in 2015, putting Nigeria on the map of countries with requisite regulations for effective practice of modern agricultural biotechnology. The biosafety law allowed for the establishment of a biosafety regulatory agency, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) which has announced the nation’s readiness for the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) products. This means that Nigeria will soon begin the commercialization of staple crops which have gone through the world standard procedure of studies and observations in the field called confined field trials (CFTs). Read more

Burkina Faso’s GMO cotton mistakes won’t be repeated in Africa, stakeholders say

Stakeholders in the agricultural biotechnology sector are offering assurances that the problems that prompted Burkina Faso to temporarily halt cultivation of genetically engineered cotton won’t be repeated with GMO crops in other African countries. Read more

Malawi: Biotechnology could spur Africa’s industrialisation

An industrial development strategy could be built on the back of Africa’s agricultural sector underpinned by the adoption of new and emerging technologies such as biotechnology to support improved yields, value addition and services that feed into the whole agro-processing value chain, a top Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) official says.

Getachew Belay, a senior biotechnology policy advisor told Zimpapers Syndication recently on the sidelines of a communication training workshop for journalists on biotechnology and biosafety, that the adoption of genetically modified cotton developed using a bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which naturally produces a chemical harmful only to a small fraction of insects such as the bollworm, could increase yields and enhance competitiveness.

He says cotton farmers in Africa suffer huge losses due to pest problems.

“The most destructive of pests is the African bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), which can cause severe losses of up to 100 percent like we saw on some cotton fields in Salima here in Malawi,” the Comesa biotech policy advisor says.

“In unprotected fields pest damage can be very severe and when you look at Bt cotton crop on trial you can see hope that it’s possible for African farmers to increase their yields and competitiveness of their crop on the market.”

Using Bt cotton developed using bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which naturally produces a chemical harmful only to a small fraction of insects such as the bollworm, experts say reduction in pest infestations can increase yields and improve the livelihoods of cotton growers.

The Bt toxin is inserted into cotton, causing cotton, called Bt cotton, to produce this natural insecticide in its tissues.

Biotechnology experts argue that cotton farmers in Zimbabwe, Malawi and most other African countries, can effectively reduce input costs and control damage from bollworms and other insects that frequently damage cotton by adopting Bt cotton.

For several decades, has lagged behind in terms of the industrial dynamism required to boost farmer earnings, employment, economic growth and competitiveness on the global market.

But in recent years, there is a growing realisation of the importance of industrialisation.

In 2016, the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) published a major report on industrialization in Africa where it asserts that structural transformation in Africa’s economies remains the highest priority and industrialization is the top strategy for achieving it in practice.

And, Belay says, biotechnology is one of the major tools for achieving industrialisation.

“I’m convinced that biotechnology has many opportunities to drive Africa’s industrialisation,” he says.

“We have Bt cotton, Bt maize and soya and biotechnology can enhance the competitiveness of our crops and agricultural products especially when it comes to value addition and beneficiation as it was stipulated in our African industrialisation agenda.

“Already we are seeing the benefits of adopting biotech crops in South Africa. Livestock feed sectors in Zambia and even Zimbabwe cannot compete with SA’s GM stock feed which is produced cheaply. We need to adopt this new technology to cut costs.

“Europe relies heavily on GM soya for its livestock feed industry and this has enhanced its competitiveness.”

Africa has a low uptake of biotech food crops due to lack of awareness and stiff resistance, scientists say.

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter director Margaret Karembu told journalists at the workshop that adoption of agricultural biotechnology has lagged behind compared to the rapid rates seen in the medical and health sectors.

“Where are we as Africans? This is the question, we need to think seriously about the good work (on agricultural biotechnology) going on in our labs,” she said. “What is our place in the global biotechnology space? We need reclaim it and improve the livelihoods of our farmers across the continent.”

Karembu said lack of awareness and a constrained regulatory environment had also slowed down the uptake of agricultural biotechnology.

“Lack of awareness of the benefits and the regulatory framework has affected the tide towards the adoption of biotechnology. The victim mentality has been largely to blame for this.

“We think of ourselves as victims of the technology. The fact is that our public institutions and universities have been doing research on biotech crops for years and this has not moved to the commercialization stage,” she says. She says Africa needs to diffuse myths and misconceptions around GMO crops.

“The media has a big role to play in clearing some of the misconceptions about biotechnology and GMOs,” the ISAAA director says.

“When media demonises the science, it becomes difficult to correct the mistakes. There is a lot of unfamiliarity with the technology and having fixed mind sets will not help our struggling farmers.

“The farmers you saw in Salima are poor and they are struggling. Why should we block them from accessing the Bt cotton varieties that can significantly boost their yields and income? Farming should not be for leisure, it’s a business and it should be there to improve the quality of livelihoods of the farmers.

“Biotechnology is one of the tools we can use to first of all improve crop yields and secondly to support Africa’s industrialisation goals for value addition and beneficiation.”

Karembu urged the media to encourage dialogue and to correct misinformation.

“The information we generate should be guided by credible scientific evidence and not unverified ‘Google’ information,” she says. “If you have a headache people just ‘Google’ and ‘Google’ has become the answer. The world is polluted by a lot of unsubstantiated facts. We need to change the narrative and challenge the myth that Africa enjoys being poor – the romanticisation of poverty.”

Stringent and expensive regulatory process in Africa has slowed down uptake of biotechnology crops.

Biotech experts say the regulatory process is burdensome and makes everything unpredictable while in some African countries there is fear of change and challenging of the status quo when it comes to biotechnology.

According to ISAAA, the production of biotech crops increased 110-fold from 1996 with countries now growing the crops on 2,1 billion hectares worldwide.

The global value of the biotech seed market alone was US$15,8 billion in 2016. A total of 26 countries, 19 developing and 7 industrial grew biotech crops.

By 2016, at least four countries in Africa had in the past placed a GM crop on the market. These included Egypt, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan.

But due to some temporary setback in Burkina Faso and Egypt, only South Africa and Sudan planted biotech crops on 2,8 million hectares

South Africa is one of the top 10 countries planting more than one million hectares in 2016 and continued to lead the adoption of biotech crops on the African continent.

Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria have transitioned from research to granting environmental release approvals while six others – Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Swaziland and Uganda made significant progress towards completion of multi-location trials in readiness for considering commercial approval, ISAAA reported.

But the road to the adoption of Bt cotton technologies in Africa still faces stiff resistance.

Supporters of GM crops have to grapple with vocal anti-GMO activists, limited capacity to deal with the processing of GM research applications, bureaucratic delays in approving field trials, mistrust and resistance from key decision makers in Government and limited public awareness of the issues surrounding research and development of GM crops.

In addition, they have to contend with issues related to disease resistance, bottlenecks encountered when co-ordinating with other line ministries, trade-related restrictions, biosafety regulation and the overwhelming influence of multinational companies, Governments and their sidekicks – NGOs. And, despite the threats, biotechnology experts say benefits from the biotech agro-linked industrial development outweigh the threats.

SADC drew up its Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap which seeks to speed up industrialisation by strengthening the comparative and competitive advantages of the economies of the region.

The strategy which covers the period 2015 – 2063 is anchored on three pillars – industrialisation, competitiveness and regional industrialisation.

The whole industrialisation agenda aims to help SADC member states to achieve high levels of economic growth, competitiveness, incomes and employment.

To access the funds, SADC countries have set up committees made up of government and private sector players to identify priority areas for funding.

At regional level, three areas have been prioritised, namely – agro processing, mining and downstream processing.

“For all this, biotechnology could be a useful tool to drive the region’s industrialisation agenda,” Belay says.

“It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s one of the many tools we can use to drive the continent’s industrialisation strategy. Agriculture is fundamental to Comesa member states in terms of improving food and nutrition security, increasing rural income, employment and contributions to GDP and expert earnings.

“We need to explore ways of enhancing the use of biotechnology to drive industrialisation and improved livelihoods for farmers in Africa.”

Analysts say Africa badly needs increased investment in infrastructure of all kinds – reliable clean energy and water systems, medical clinics, technical colleges, railways, roads, bridges, fiber optic networks, and factories of many kinds.

“Industrialisation can benefit the expansion of intra-African trade by supporting a more diversified export economy,” wrote an economic analyst.

“In particular, the development of rural and food processing industries could help to lift significant numbers from poverty. But, to facilitate trade in goods and services, it is essential to reduce distribution costs by improving and expanding road, rail and other communication infrastructure.” -Zimpapers Syndication

Scientists to release biotech maize, cotton varieties in Kenya

Kenyan scientists have used modern biotechnology to develop two crop varieties that are expected to be released in the country soon.

Simon Gichuki of the Kenya Agricultural, Livestock Research Organization’s (KALRO) Biotechnology Research Institute (BioRI) said that the maize and cotton varieties are already awaiting the National Performance Trials before they can be released for field trials, while gypsophilla flower will follow soon.

“The products have been produced within the country by local scientists where risk assessment has been done in accordance with the law,” he said during an agricultural biotechnology sensitization workshop in Nairobi on Friday.

Gichuki noted that genetically modified drought- and pest-resistant cassava, sorghum and sweet potato are due to be complete soon.

Julia Njagi, a biosafety officer at the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), revealed that the authority has approved 24 crop varieties for laboratory and greenhouse trials, 14 for Confined Field Trials (CFT) and three for environmental trials.

She added that the two varieties are pending approval and are at the laboratory and environmental release stages.

Research on Bt cotton was completed in 2002-2012 and approved by NBA for National Performance Trials (NPT) by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).

Insect-resistant and drought-tolerant maize variety has also been approved and is undergoing NPT by KEPHIS experts. Enditem

Source: Xinhua/

-Published in NewsGhana.  See original article link here.

Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

PRESS RELEASE, 19 May 2017: Biotech/GM corn production in the Philippines rebounds in 2016 as the country remains to be the top grower of biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops in Southeast Asia, and ranks as the twelfth biggest producer of such crops in the world, according to the latest report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

searcabic_btcornharvestISAAA states that in 2016, 185.1 million hectares of biotech/GM crops were planted in 26 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North and Latin America. Of this area, 812,000 hectares of biotech/GM corn was planted in the Philippines in 2016, a remarkable 16% increase from the 702,000 hectares planted in 2015 which is equivalent to 110,000 hectares. The increase is due to favorable weather conditions, and high local demand for livestock and feed stocks. Biotech/GM corn, which was approved for commercial planting in 2002 is the only biotech crop planted in the country today.

Adoption rates of biotech/GM corn also increased from 63% in 2015 to 65% in 2016, when the number of small, resource-poor farmers, growing on average, 2 hectares of biotech/GM corn in the Philippines was estimated to be over 406,000. According to the report, the farm level economic benefit of planting biotech/GM corn in the country from 2003 to 2015 is estimated to have reached US$642 million, and for 2015 alone, the net national impact of biotech/GM crop on farm income was estimated at US$82 million.

ISAAA’s 2016 report which was launched on May 4, 2017 in Beijing, China also states that there are only 13 biotech/GM corn events approved for cultivation in the Philippines, with the last approval given in 2014. There have been 88 biotech crop event approvals for food, feed, and processing cultivation in the Philippines, including: alfalfa (2 events), rapeseed (2), cotton (8), corn (52), potato (8), rice (1), soybean (14), and sugar beet (1).

Current research and development efforts on biotech/GM crops in the Philippines include products from the public sector: fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant led by the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (IPB-UPLB); biotech papaya with delayed ripening and papaya ring spot virus (PRSV) resistance, also being developed by IPB-UPLB; Bt cotton being developed by the Philippine Fiber Development Administration (PFIDA, formerly the Cotton Development Authority); and Golden Rice (GR), a biotech rice biofortified with provitamin A beta-carotene that is being developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The Philippines continues to be at the forefront of biotech research and commercialization in Southeast Asia, and the acceptance of biotech/GM crops in the country has been demonstrated by key stakeholders including the general public, such that a Joint Department Circular (JDC) was quickly put together in record time of three months in 2016 after the Supreme Court nullified and invalidated the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order 8 (DA AO8) which served as the government policy for biotech/GM crops for more than 20 years. Future commercialization of Bt eggplant, PRSV-R papaya, Bt cotton, and Golden Rice will be regulated under the new JDC.

Despite a temporary decline in biotech/GM corn area in 2015, the Philippines has quickly rebounded production in 2016, when adoption rates for the crop increased due to the enormous benefits enjoyed by Filipino consumers, farmers and their families.

biotechcornfarmerMore than 18 million small farmers and their families have benefited from biotech crops in the last 21 years. ISAAA reports that the adoption of biotech crops has reduced CO2 emissions equivalent to removing approximately 12 million cars from the road annually in recent years. Biotech crops have helped conserve biodiversity by saving 174 million hectares of land from being ploughed and cultivated, and decreased the environmental impact of agriculture by reducing herbicide and insecticide applications and environmental impact by 19% in 1996-2015, and 18.4% in 2015 alone. Additionally, in developing countries, planting biotech crops has helped alleviate hunger and poverty by increasing the incomes for 18 million small farmers and their families, bringing improved financial stability to more than 65 million people.

Kenyan scientists seek more funding for biotechnology research

NAIROBI (Xinhua) — A Kenyan scientist on Wednesday called on the government to increase funding for agricultural biotechnology to help empower women scientists.

Professor Caroline Thoruwa, the Chairperson of African Women in Science and Engineering said additional funding could help enhance the participation of women in science whose number is currently small.

“Additional funding will help empower women’s participation in modern science especially Genetically Modified Organization that is the current innovation in agriculture,” she said in an inaugural women in biosciences forum in Nairobi.

Thoruwa called on the government to increase awareness on biotechnology by reaching women in all parts of the country.

“It is time to tell the public about the positive side of biotechnology.

“We need to raise up the status of women in biotechnology and also encourage women to network in order to achieve the noble goal of sharing their science,” she said.

Felister Makini, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization Deputy Director General urged the government to make farming easier to women by providing them with modern tools such as biotechnology.

“Biotechnology can help African women since they form majority of farmers and suffer most during drought and food shortages,” she noted.

Makini said that drought and perennial hunger should be a thing of the past since the technology that could be of great help exists.

Margaret Karembu, Director, The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications AfriCenter hailed Kenya’s intention to revive the textile industry by introducing disease resistant and drought tolerant Bt cotton.

“Despite demonstrated will and long history of safe use, conflicting messages between different ministries and regulatory agencies were hampering progress in delivering the technology to farmers,” Karembu said.

She called on women scientists to intensify engagement with government and help clarify long-standing misconceptions on the technology.

-Published in  See original article link here.

Farmers return to BT cotton after experiment with desi variety fails

After the experiment with the desi cotton failed to bear fruits, farmers are returning to the BT cotton in the next kharif season.

While there is no taker for the desi cotton seed available with the government agencies, the BT cotton seed is being sold at a premium in the open market, as the seed is not available with the Haryana Seeds Development Corporation.
The farmers say due to high demand, BT cotton varieties were being sold at premium rate by the private seed sellers in the open market. On the other hand, they said, there were no takers for the desi varieties.

“The farmers prefer three varieties of BT cotton— 773, 776 and US 21. Due to high demand, the seed traders have been manipulating the market to create a shortage. Though some unscrupulous elements succeeded in selling these varieties at a premium of Rs 200 per packet above the MRP, the market has stabilised now and these vareties are also available at the MRP of Rs 800,” says a seed trader in Hisar.

Anil Kumar, assistant marketing officer of the Haryana Seeds Development Corporation, says the desi varieties are in low demand this time. “Just 120 packets have been sold till. Last year, I had sold 1,400 packets,” he says, maintaining that the corporation will make some varieties of BT cotton available to the farmers soon.
Farmers say good BT cotton crop in the last kharif season had turned the farmers back to these varieties, as desi cotton was not even able to recover the input cost.

Zile Singh, a farmer from Bir Babran village who sowed desi cotton last time after he lost the BT cotton to the whitefly two years ago, said he was returning to BT cotton this time again.

-Published in The Tribune.  See original article link here.

African trading bloc ready to embrace transgenic products

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member countries on Wednesday expressed their readiness for the development and importation of genetically modified organism (GMO) products in the region.

Getachew Belay, COMESA Senior Biotechnology Policy Advisor, said the Africa’s largest trading bloc has experts and laboratories for testing GMOs.

“The region has trained scientists and some are currently working in other continents due to lack of developed systems in biotechnology development,” Belay told Xinhua in Nairobi on Wednesday.

He said the 19-member bloc has taken biotechnology seriously by putting down infrastructures as per the recommendations of the Cartagena protocol.

The countries are currently cooperating in creating an enabling environment for external, cross-border and domestic investment, including the joint promotion of research and adaptation of science and technology for development.

Belay said COMESA provides a technical opinion about the biosafety of GMOs seeking commercial status in the COMESA region, which can be used by individual countries to make decisions within their own biosafety regulatory frameworks, and also a harmonized mechanism for decision-making involving commercial planting, trade of GMOs and food aid with GM content in the COMESA region.

He noted that COMESA has helped member states share and build capacity to conduct risk assessment and management. It also established interactive regional information-sharing mechanism on biosafety and biotechnology issues.

Margaret Karembu, Director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), said whereas several countries are making profits from biotechnology, African countries are still lagging behind due to unpredictable political and policy environment in supporting biotechnology research.

“Costly regulatory processes coupled with miscommunication of the technology are to blame for Africa’s slow uptake of the technology,” she noted.

Sudan is the only country in the region that is currently growing GMO. It has 100,000 acres under such crops since 2012 when the technology was introduced. Currently 97 percent of farmers are growing the GMO variety.

Kenya, Swaziland, Uganda and Malawi are at confined field trial stages for Bt. cotton, Bt. maize, virus-resistant cassava and sweet potatoes, bacterial-wilt-resistant banana and drought-tolerant water-efficient maize.

-Written by Peter Mutai (Xinhua, Nairobi) in  See original article link here.

China: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

China is the world’s largest importer of genetically engineered (GE) crops and one of the largest producers of GE cotton in the world, but it has not yet approved any major GE food crops for cultivation. As a part of its rule revision plan, in 2016, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) released the “Revised Administrative Measures for Safety Assessment of Agricultural Genetically Modified Organisms” (MOA Decree 7 [2016]). The “13th Five-Year Plan for Science and Technology Innovation” aims to push forward the commercialization of a new domestic type of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, Bt cotton, and herbicide-resistant soybeans by 2020. At the same time, delays in import approvals continue to worsen, causing unpredictability for traders and delaying the adoption of needed new varieties in exporting countries such as the United States.

China: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

Published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service as part of  its Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) Report.  View article link here.


Zimbabwe Should Embrace GMO – Expert

ZIMBABWE has been urged to embrace genetically modified (GM) crops to improve harvests and reduce production costs as production in cotton declines, with projections that 32 000 tonnes would be produced during the 2015/2016 agricultural year.

The country had produced 90 000 tonnes the previous season.

Although genetic engineering has made a rapid entry into agriculture in countries like South Africa in the past decade, Zimbabwe has banned GM crop production and importation.

With the nation facing a severe drought and food shortages, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made, emphasised: “The position of the government is very clear, we do not accept GMOs as we are protecting the environment from the grain point of view.”

But a high-level stakeholder validation workshop on agricultural policy in Harare last week organised by the National Economic Consultative Forum (NECF) in conjunction with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) showed that GM crops, especially in cotton production, would increase national income by US$50 million.

“National saving for bollworm control will be US$12 million and if the yield increase per hectare is 400 kilogrammes, like in India, the national income benefit would be over US$90 million,”said Idah Sithole-Niang, an expert who presented a paper on GM varieties in Zimbabwe.

Niang added that if Zimbabwe was to adopt Bt Cotton (GM cotton), the country may not lose its export market because the world leading cotton producing countries adopted 90 percent of Bt cotton.

“Over 70 percent of cotton traded in the world is GM cotton. Europe uses GM stock for their livestock and Denmark uses GM soya in pigs that produce Danish ham traded globally,” Niang said.

The 2016 Mid Year Fiscal Policy showed that cotton production for 2016 had declined from 90 000 tonnes to 32 000 tonnes despite government and private sector efforts in funding production.

Seed cotton production declined by 34 percent from 136 000 tonnes in the 2013/2014 season to 90 000 tonnes in the 2014/2015 season.

The 32 000 tonnes is far below the 60 000 tonnes harvested during the 1991/92 season, which experienced severe drought conditions.

At peak production in 2012, small-scale farmers produced 350 703 tonnes of cotton, which translated to 143 788 tonnes of lint and earned the country over US$200 million.

Despite farm productivity being key to reviving the country’s cotton sector, farmers have been making huge losses from cotton production.

Although the safety of GM foods have always been questionable, Niang said over 1,4 million tonnes of edible oil from Bt cotton is consumed annually and for the past 14 years, no adverse effects have been recorded.

In livestock, 10 million tonnes of cotton seed cake for dairy cows are consumed and no adverse effects have been reported.

“In fact, cotton seed cake is preferred as it increases milk fat content.”

In poultry production, without the use of GM stock feeds, South African poultry producers have a competitive advantage over Zimbabwean producers.

In 2014, Zimbabwe imported 3 988 tonnes of chicken from South Africa and South Africa exported 66 355 tonne to regional markets.

South Africa produces 82 percent of GM maize, 95 percent soyabeans and 95 percent Bt cotton.

The experts recommended that government should lift the ban on GM stock feeds.

“Government should allow confined field trials of GM cotton and other GM crops and align the National Biosafety Framework to international best practices. Zimbabwe should also take a cautionary approach to regulate GM crops as opposed to the precautionary principle that will completely halt progress,” Niang said.

Biotech crops in Africa include potatoes, sugarcane, maize, cotton cassava, rice, bananas, cucumber, wheat, sorghum and melons.

Proponents of GM crops claim that the new transgenic crops improve yields, reduce pesticide use and increase food security especially in developing countries, a promise that most countries facing food shortages want to believe.

-Written by Tabitha Mutenga in AllAfrica.  See article link here.

One more GM cotton on the way — this one’s home-grown

Bengaluru, Sep 11 (IANS) While the controversy over MonsantoBSE -0.79 %’s Bt cotton has not yet died down, a new transgenic variety is at India’s doorsteps — this one developed by the country’s own scientists.

It remains to be seen how the regulators — the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — will react to this Made in India cotton when its developers seek approval for its cultivation.

The Bt cotton (containing a toxin from the Bacillus thuriengiensis or Bt organism) was introduced in 2002 to protect the crop from the bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) pest. The benefits versus risks of Bt cotton is a continuing debate, with its proponents claiming that it had increased production while the opponents partly blame it for farmers’ suicides.

The new transgenic cotton is supposed to target whitefly (Bemisia tabaci), whose infestation had been extremely serious in Punjab and Haryana and perhaps elsewhere in the last season and is emerging as a new threat to the crop.

The whitefly damages crops by sucking their sap and transmitting viral diseases. None of the insecticidal proteins used in genetically modified (GM) crop plants to date are effective against the whitefly.

Now, in a paper published in the prestigious “Nature Biotechnology” journal, a team of scientists from the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) in Lucknow — and some other institutions under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) — have offered a ray of hope to fight the whitefly with their new weapon.

To find this weapon, they screened 38 “ferns” (plants that reproduce via spores and have neither seeds nor flowers) to find a protein that is toxic for the whitefly.

The search led them to identify a protein from an edible fern called “Tectaria macrodonta” that kills the whitefly and interferes with its life cycle. They appropriately named the protein “Tma12”.

In the next step, they cloned the gene encoding for this protein and, using standard genetic engineering methods, inserted it in the cotton plant to create the transgenic variety expressing the Tma12 protein.

According to their report, the scientists developed 16 transgenic cotton lines with variable Tma12 expression for “contained field trials” or “greenhouse study”.

They report that all the transgenic cotton lines they produced were found resistant to whitefly infestation, “with no detectable yield penalty”. One line, in fact, “showed excellent control of whitefly and superior agronomic parameters throughout four generations”.

Leaves of transgenic plants grown in contained field tests had no visible symptoms of cotton leaf curl disease, unlike the control plants, the scientists report. Experiments further showed that the population of whiteflies feeding on transgenic leaves decreased rapidly while those feeding on non-transgenic leaves kept multiplying.

Transgenic plants grew normally and the yield was on a par with that of pesticide-protected control plants, the report said.

“Seed germination, photosynthesis rate, plant biomass and flowering time were comparable between the transgenic and control plants,” the report said.

According to the scientists, Tma12 targeted only the whitefly and did not affect the ladybird beetle, an important predator of the whitefly and a beneficial insect.

The researchers point out that Tma12 was isolated from a known edible plant that is consumed as a vegetable by humans and used in traditional remedies for various human diseases.

“Therefore Tma12 is a promising candidate gene that could be pyramided with Bt toxins to develop GM crops with resistance to whitefly and other herbivorous pests,” the report said.

The scientists said their toxicity studies in rats revealed no adverse effects, thereby making Tma12 “a promising candidate for the development of GM crops”, but admit that “detailed safety studies are required to meet GEAC’s requirements”.

Besides NBRI, scientists from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and Panjab University in Chandigarh participated in the study.

(K.S. Jayaraman can be contacted at


-Published in The Economic Times.  See article link here.