27 May 2022 04:47 AM



Biosafety Assessment of GM Mustard By Prof Saradhi

NEW DELHI: Pardha Saradhi is a Professor in Environmental Studies at University of Delhi. After attaining stature of first team in the world to successfully develop transgenic Indian mustard genotypes through genetic transformation, his team was also successful in developing other transgenic crop plants, viz. chickpea, sorghum, tomato and rice, with enhanced tolerance to salt, water and temperature stresses. The Citizen’s INDRA SHEKHAR SINGH speaks to the professor on a host of issues. Read part 1 of the interview here.

TC:What are your objections to the biosafety documents ?

PPS: Let me come to main drawbacks of the report displayed on GEAC website:

Most importantly, concerned members of GEAC, DBT and ICAR should have directed the assessment team to compare performance of their GM – DMH-11 hybrid with non-GM hybrids like NRC Sankar Sarson, Coral 432 and even VEH2-F1 rather than with highly inferior local checks or non-hybrid varieties. I believe that members of GEAC are either not having enough scientific knowledge/expertise and/or involved in favouring DMH-11 hybrid against the interest of the farmers and hence the Nation.

Shockingly, The assessment report refers to non-GM hybrid VEH2-F1, just to inappropriately reflecting that their hybrid DMH-11 is “does not have any weediness or aggressiveness potential”. However, it is clear that non-GM hybrid VEH2-F1 is superior to their DMH-11 in terms of “germination percentage, shoot and root length and shoot and root weight”.

Accordingly, this non-GM hybrid must be extremely superior to their GM hybrid- DMH-11 at least in terms of (i) productivity (higher shoot and root weight certainly reflects that non-GM hybrid possess superior photosynthetic capacity); and (ii) potential to withstand abiotic stresses in particular drought. In light of these results it is evident that assessment carried is below standard and unacceptable;

It is clear from the Assessment report that GM hybrid - DMH-11 produce smaller seed and late maturing. We can’t rule out the possibility of reappearance of pod shattering character of East European genotype, EH2, in future.

Due to lack of sufficient expertise in raising transgenics using Varuna, Pental’s team initially managed to raise transgenics of Indian mustard variety RLM 198 with barnase gene using bar as the selection marker and then through crossing they managed to transfer barnase-bar gens to variety Varuna. Simultaneously, most probably with the expertise of his associate, who was trained by me during his Ph.D. for developing Indian mustard transgenics (with popular varieties like Pusa Jaikisan) managed to raise transgenic genotypes of Varuna with barstar gene again using bar gene as selection marker.

Subsequently, they transferred barstar-bar genes to EH2 via cross breeding. This only reflects, not only their initial incompetence in directly raising transgenic genotypes of their choice varieties, but also shows how public funds and manpower have been mismanaged.

Unless and until, we see details of experiments performed, number of replicates and true data obtained it is difficult to believe (i) Allergenicity and toxicity assessment; (ii) soil microflora assessment; and (iii) environmental safety studies.

Fatty acid composition in the report clearly reveals that barnase-bar as well as barstar-bar transgenics are significantly inferior in levels of unsaturated fatty acids linoleic as well as linolenic acids. It is unbelievable that some of the plants have zero linolenic acid that too in seeds. However, it is clear that overall level of unsaturated fatty acids seems to be significantly lower in GM-hybrid DMH-11, which reflects its inferior oil quality compared to non GM counter parts. It must be made mandatory for developers to furnish details of the results of fatty acid composition.

It has been shown that the level of bar protein detected in in different plant tissues can be as high as 26 µg/mg total protein. That means bar protein represents 2.6% of total protein in plant tissues, which is rather highly unbelievable. What exactly is meant by plant tissue and what all plant tissues did they use for quantifying protein. Probably, DMH- 11 team members should brush up their basics before submitting reports to National and International bodies. Based on fatty acid and protein quantification analysis provided, I question the authenticity of assessment analysis carried out and the report submitted.

The GM Mustard team members must be aware that (i) researchers of Bayer have been successful in transferring barnase and barstar gens from B. napus to B. juncea; (ii) reports of transfer of herbicide resistant gene from B. napus to B. juncea (which was growing as a weed in B. napus fields). With such well known documents/reports, how can anyone accept the vague statement that “. This reflects cad behaviour towards Indian farmers, funding agencies, politicians and general public granted.

Statements made in the report regarding Crossability and gene flow are very vague and highly contradictory. The biosafety report itself clearly reflects possibility of clear gene flow to wild relatives as well as to cultivars of B. juncea. Such transgene flow and contamination of B. juncea varieties can lead to several problems/complications such as

The document clearly reports that Eastern India is one of the secondary centres of Diversification of B. juncea. It is clear that this part of India bears biodiversity of Indian mustard (B. juncea). The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (India) and conventional breeders must be thriving on the diversity in search of unique characters (such as pest/pathogen resistance, abiotic stress tolerance, nutritional quality, vigour etc.). Contamination of the B. juncea biodiversity in the centre of diversity by transgenes (barnase, barstar and bar genes) and in particular barnase gene can be extremely harmful not only to the existing biodiversity, but also would hamper with natural evolution of B. juncea diversity.

It has been clearly established by the assessment report that transgenes flow and contaminate non-GM B. juncea cultivars/hybrids grown in adjacent farmer’s agricultural fields. This would obviously have severe negative impact. The report claims that cross between adjoining crops has been found to occur up to a distance of 20 m. It is highly unrealistic to believe that the bees can’t travel beyond a distance of 20 m. Such vague statements questions integrity and general awareness of the developers.

The statement in the report “In rare cases even if interspecies crossing occurs, due to difference in ploidy levels, the resultant triploid plants will have irregular meiosis, sterility and chromosomal imbalance thus persistence of progeny in the environment will be negligible” overlooks and questions the well-established facts related to the evolution/origin of the bread wheat (hexaploid), the major staple food crop.