Scientists develops country's first trangenic tomato

The benefits of GE

Tomatoes perish fast. Every year almost 25-30 per  cent of the harvested crop is damaged by the tropical heat. It is a common problem in Karnataka.

Farm scientists now offer a solution: they delay the fruit ripening process. Excess production coupled with long transportation time typically leads to the wastage of tonnes of tomatoes every year. The situation was particularly bad in Karnataka in 2005 where heaps tomatoes of decayed in the market without takers.

Tinkering with the tomato genes, researchers at the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology here have developed a genetically engineered tomato where ripening can be delayed, giving farmers 7-10 extra days for taking the produce to market. “Those extra days are vital for bringing fresh tomatoes to the market since we neither have refrigerated transport facilities nor adequate cold storage,” K C Bansal who heads the project at NRCPB told Deccan Herald.

Four tomato genes are responsible for ripening. In transgenic tomato, scientists insert one of those genes, ACC Synthase, in reverse orientation to control the release of a chemical named ethylene which is responsible for fruit ripening.  The change leads to the dwindling of the ethylene level inside the cell, which in turn slows down the ripening process.

Since these genetically modified tomatoes do not have foreign genes, apprehensions expressed by the anti-GM lobby will not hold. “There should be no issue on toxicity and allergenicity as there is no foreign gene,” Bansal said.

Also, if the tomatoes stay longer on the mother plants –– farmers generally pluck them at the green stage to tide over transportation woes –– the nutrient contents improve.

Following successful trials in sealed greenhouses, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved on-field biosafety trials for transgenic tomatoes few months ago. Two trials will be conducted in 2009-10 and 2010-11. “We will plant the tomatoes by Oct-Nov and harvest them by March-April. Because of the genetic engineering, fruits on the plant will ripen slowly,” he said.

Once biosafety trials are over, scientists will approach the GEAC seeking permission for multi-location trials and commercialisation.

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