Exemption of some genome-modified crop types from the Environmental Safety Regulations for Genetically Modified (GM) crops by the Ministry of Environment, and the Department of Biotechnology providing guidelines for assessing the safety of such plants, will probably encourage the rapid development of climate-tolerant crop varieties. Sandeep Das explains gene-editing techniques and their potential.
Genome editing enables the mutation of plant-owned genes without the insertion of external genes, such as GM crops. Genome-modified varieties have no foreign DNA and cannot be distinguished from invented crops by conventional plant-breeding methods or by using naturally occurring mutations.
- The Ministry of Environment exempted SDN 1 and SDN 2 genomes from Rule 7-11 of the Environmental Protection Act in March 2022.
- Conventional breeding methods take 8-10 years to develop new crop varieties; Genome-editing can speed it up
- Genome editing is being used on 40 crops in 25 countries for which a partial or complete genome sequence is available.
Genome editing is being used on most crop plants for which a partial or complete genome sequence is available and is being applied to about 40 crops in 25 countries. The United States and China are leading the use of this technology in developing grain varieties such as rice, maize, soybeans, canola and tomatoes that withstand the biological and abiotic stresses caused by climate change.
Impact on internal crop development
The Indian Council for Agricultural Research says the technology has a lot of promise and needs to focus on improving disease, insect or pest resistant and drought, salinity and heat stress tolerant oilseeds and pulses. Last year, a group of scientists wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, calling for the release of technology.
Rapid development of crop varieties
Conventional breeding techniques take eight to 10 years to develop crop varieties, while genome editing can take two to three years. Experts say the technology promises to reduce import dependence on oilseeds and pulses through rapid development of disease, pest resistant and drought, salinity and heat stress tolerant varieties.
Relaxation in rules
Exemption of SDN1 and SDN2 genomes from Rule 7-11 will help avoid a lengthy approval process through the Genetic Engineering Evaluation Committee for GM crops. The SDN1 and SDN2 genomes are being used in Indian labs for breeding crops that have properties such as disease resistance, drought and salinity stress.