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First-ever genetically modified rubber planted in Assam

Published on June 22, 2021 | V Sajeev Kumar & Kochi | The Hindu

This is the first time any GM crop is developed exclusively for the North-East.

Terming it a game-changer in natural rubber cultivation in the country, the Rubber Board has planted the first genetically modified (GM) rubber at its Sarutari research farm in Guwahati on Tuesday.

Developed at the Rubber Research Institute of India, the GM rubber plant is expected to grow well under the climatic conditions of the North-East.

KN Raghavan, Chairman and Executive Director of Rubber Board, said the GM rubber plant is expected to tide over the severe cold conditions during winter which is a major factor affecting the growth of young rubber plants with additional copies of the gene MnSOD (manganese-containing superoxide dismutase) inserted in it.

Through breeding and selection, RRII has earlier developed two high-yielding hybrid clones of rubber that are adapted to the climatic conditions of the North-East. This is the first time any GM crop is developed exclusively for this region, he said.


Harsh winter

Growth of young rubber remains suspended during the winter months which are also characterised by progressive drying of the soil. This is the reason for the long immaturity period of this crop in the region. MnSOD gene has the ability to protect plants from the adverse effects of severe environmental stresses such as cold, drought, etc.

“What is planted now is not on a commercial basis, but on an experimental level following all mandatory bio-safety measures applicable to field trials involving GM crops,” Raghavan said.

Allaying unfounded fears about GM rubber, he said MnSOD gene used in the GM rubber was taken from the rubber plant itself. Its copies were multiplied in the laboratory and reinserted into a cell of the rubber plant which was then regenerated into a full plant that is now panted in the field. There are no plant species in India that can breed with natural rubber. Therefore, there is no risk of genes flowing from the GM rubber into any other native species, a concern often raised by environmental groups against GM plants in general.


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