Catalyst developed to make biofuel

Scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Jodhpur, have gone a step further in the quest for low-cost biofuel. The scientists have shown that oil extracted from algae can be converted into diesel by using sand from Rajasthan.

World over scientists are working on converting algae oil into biofuels (a fuel derived immediately from living matter) using different catalysts.

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Genetically-modified mustard gets GEAC nod for cultivation

The recommendation for clearance has been sent to Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave who has to approve the decision.

AFTER MONTHS of suspense, a genetically-modified variety of mustard, developed by a Delhi-based institute, has been cleared for commercial cultivation by the country’s top regulator on genetically-engineered organisms. The GEAC, or Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, a body that functions under the Environment Ministry, on Thursday gave its recommendation to approve the long-pending application of the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at Delhi University which had developed a transgenic mustard called DMH-11.

The recommendation for clearance has been sent to Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave who has to approve the decision. The GEAC’s decision on Thursday puts DHM-11 mustard at a stage where Bt brinjal, a transgenic variety of brinjal, had found itself seven years ago. Bt brinjal was the first genetically modified food crop that had reached the Environment Minister’s table for clearance after obtaining all the necessary regulatory requirements. The then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, however, had refused clearance and put an indefinite moratorium the decision. That moratorium continues to this day.

GM mustard is the only other food crop which has made it to this last stage, after prolonged debate and several rounds of regulatory checks that has been going on for years. It is not clear what Dave would decide on this crop.

But organisations opposed to genetically-modified crops slammed the GEAC’s decision. “GEAC has proved yet again that it is unscientific and uncaring with regard to citizens’ health and environment. They have failed in their very mandate and purpose for which they have been created, to protect citizens from the risk of GMOs… We hope and urge minister Anil Madhav Dave to be responsible in his decision-making. This GM mustard should be rejected just as Bt brinjal was, seven years ago,” said Sarson Satyagraha which claims to be a platform for “hundreds of organisations” representing farmers and scientists opposed to introduction of GM mustard.

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi in Indian Express website.  See original article link here.1212

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.

Provide incentivise for increasing agricultural biotechnology research

It will enhance quality of seeds & also play a major role in enabling an ‘ever-green revolution’

Agriculture, which is the largest informal sector and the main driver in the Indian economy, experienced distress due to the demonetisation drive. With the Budget 2017 being preponed, expectations are running high especially in the Indian agricultural sector. Many companies are yet to realise that there is a scope behind it, by which the current scenario can change for good with logical budget allocation and implementations.

For the rural economy, which caters to 65 percent (800 million) of India’s population, it is important that the agricultural sector receive top priority. According to the reports, budget 2017 will focus on making the life of lower income groups, ie farmers and the SMEs, easy and convenient with the introduction of its measures and initiatives.

In addition, discussions are ongoing regarding methods that can be implemented by the government to increase the income of farmers by two-fold by 2022. Other notable agriculture-related discussions in the run-up to the budget presents ways to bring agriculture in the purview of digital payments revolution and the move towards high-value agricultural products.

In a country like India, where 50 percent of rural households depend on agriculture, the well-being of the rural economy is directly interconnected to improving farmer livelihoods. The 2017 budget needs to bring about change by providing the sector with positive initiatives. They should also enjoy the freedom to choose new agricultural technologies including seeds and services.

The industry has repeatedly given several recommendations to resolve these problems; the most prominent one is to establish a mustard oil development board that would work in collaboration with societies and agricultural institutes; working in the field of mustard seeds in order to promote production and popularity with respect to consumption.

They would keep track of market updates, government notifications, market information updates, R&D, branding and promotion of mustard oil. There is a strong need to focus on the marketing of mustard oil, as it will help this segment in positioning the product in line with the changing needs and demands. This, in turn, will regulate import and export of one of the most popularly grown crops in India.

Import of vegetable oils during December 2016 fell to 15 percent in comparison to December 2015. Imports in December 2016 stood at 1,209,685 tonnes compared to 1,420,902 tonnes in December 2015; consisting of 1,174,296 tonnes of edible oils and 35,389 tonnes of non-edible oil, according to data compiled by Solvent Extractors’ Association of India (SEA). The overall import of vegetable oils during first two months of current oil year 2016-17 – November and December 2016 is reported at 2,385,149 tonnes compared to 2,758,337 tonnes, a visible decline of 14 percent.

When speaking of countries in the Asia Pacific region, they are increasingly embracing agricultural biotechnology. Given their contribution and the potential to affect the agricultural economy, public and private agricultural research institutions, seed companies and agriculture universities should be incentivised to increase their agricultural biotechnology research to create even newer and modern seed technologies.

This will not only help in creating enhanced quality seeds, while playing a major role in enabling an ‘ever-green revolution’, but will also help create new IPs, reduce import costs, bring upsurge in local jobs and even provide a boost to the agriculture manufacturing sector. While this is what, which lacked in the 2016 Budget, we are optimistic that the government comprehends this opportunity and accordingly makes provisions in the upcoming Budget 2017.

-Written by Vivek Puri in Business Standard.  See original article link here.

New biotechnology policy declared

Gandhinagar: Ahead of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit scheduled in a fortnight, the Gujarat government has declared a new State Biotechnology Policy (2016-2021). The government aims to create 1 lakh jobs and effect a threefold increase in industry turnover, from the current Rs 4,500 crore to Rs 15,000 crore during the policy period.
Deputy chief minister Nitin Patel announced the new policy on Monday. “Under CM Vijay Rupani, the state is progressing in multiple directions,” he said. “Earlier, we had announced the aerospace and defence policy.” He said under the new policy, vertical and horizontal biotechnology (BT) parks would be given various financial incentives. “The parks will be given up to Rs 25 crore in financial assistance,” he said. “Capital assistance up to Rs 50 crore will be given to biotechnology companies.”

Patel said Rs 1 crore would be given for new BT finishing schools. “For collaborative research and innovation, an additional Rs 25 lakh assistance will be given,” he said. “Biotech startups will be given an interest subsidy of up to 9%. For new biotech incubators, Rs 1 crore provision has been made.” He said new biotech units will be given stamp-duty and registration fee waiver, non-agriculture conversion fee waiver, Rs 1 per unit power tariff subsidy, and electricity duty exemption for five years.
The Gujarat government’s last biotechnology policy (2007-2012) had lapsed and little progress has been made in the sector so far. When asked about the vacuum, J N Singh, the Gujarat chief secretary, said: “The old policy was in continuation. We felt that the earlier policy was conservative and did not generate expected returns. So we addressed all such issues in this new policy.”

-Published in The Times of India.  See article link here.

Global biotech firms positive on GM regulatory regime

NEW DELHI: Global biotechnology firms are positive about India’s robust regulatory regime for approving genetically modified crops, which has started functioning transparently and effectively in recent months after years of lethargy , though concerns over Monsanto’s woes linger, top executives representing international companies said.

The key change in the regulatory approach is in the regular meetings of the apex approval body, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which is now meeting every month, ending its inactive phase when the panel didn’t meet for long periods, at times for a year, executives said.

“Process at the central level has improved a lot since last few months,” said Shivendra Bajaj, executive director of Association of Biotech-led Enterprises, Agriculture-focus Group (ABLE-AG).

“Now, GEAC is happening on a regular basis (and) has been very transparent. They have been doing the right thing now. I think the present position of the (Central) government with regard to science is encouraging.” ABLE-AG counts Bayer, Monsanto, Syngentaand Dow Agrsciences among its members. As the dispute between the biotechnology companies and indigenous seed manufacturers over patent rights lingers, the favourable assessment of a key committee formed under the GEAC with regard to genetically-modified (GM) mustard or ‘DMH-11’ has invigora ted biotechnology providers about the prospects of investing in India.

The process of approval for transgenic crops includes biosafety committees, review committees, monitoring and evaluation committees for field trials, and the GEAC, following which the environment ministry needs to sign off for commercialisation of GM crops.

Case in point is the moratorium on Bt brinjal despite GEAC clearance.Further, states have the option of refusing to allow field trials or deployment of GM crops despite regulatory approvals. And this is where, according to the biotech firms, maximum reform needs to take place. “There is a process of NOC before you. Certain states have come on record who refuse (to give an NOC). So, even if GEAC approves, the state government is a major challenge for us,” said Bajaj.

-Published in The Economic Times.  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 killugudi@hotmail.com)

–IANS

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

India soon to make GM mustard stance public, develop more varieties

The Indian government will soon make public its stance on allowing the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) mustard – what could be its first transgenic food crop – and “ideology” will not influence the decision, a minister said.

The mustard variety has been developed by a group of New Delhi scientists over the past decade, and Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave said India would also come up with other GM food as its population increases and arable land shrinks.

“You’ll get to know about our view on GM mustard very soon,” Dave, whose ministry decides on GM crops, told Reuters on Friday.

“Naturally if Indian scientists do some research for India, that is an advantage. India’s money is staying within India.”

Allowing GM mustard is seen as critical to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of attaining self-sufficiency in edible oils.

India spends around $12 billion annually on vegetable oil imports. GM mustard – with yields up to 30 percent higher than normal varieties, also loosely called rapeseed – will give Modi a chance to slash this bill.

But the path to a commercial launch is not without hurdles.

Public opposition to lab-altered food remains fierce, including from groups close to Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who object to reliance on technology developed mainly by Western countries.

This could throw a spanner in the works for GM mustard, which recently got technical approval from a panel of government and independent experts after multiple reviews of crop trial data.

In 2010, India placed a moratorium on GM eggplant and that too after an expert panel had given its clearance, effectively bringing the regulatory system to a deadlock.

But Modi, who was instrumental in making the western state of Gujarat India’s leading user of GM cotton while chief minister there, cleared several field trials for GM crops soon after taking office in New Delhi in 2014.

“You must have different parameters for what you eat and what you only come in contact with, like cotton,” Dave said. “(But) eventually it is the doctor who gives the medicine. Ideology has no connection with this.”

-Written by Krishna N. Das and Mayank Bhardwaj (New Delhi) and published in Reuters.  See article link here.