UAS to develop pest-resistant 'super chickpea'

Another GM crop

Researchers from the University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad, have developed the new GM variety by fusing two separate technologies. They have combined the grain with ASAL gene that resists sucking pest and the BT chickpea that resists pod borer for their new variant.  “We will take about three years to develop the ‘Super Chickpea’ variety using regular back-crossing method,” UAS director of research PM Salimath told Deccan Herald after formally becoming a partner in the project here. Jorhat had developed the two transgenic chickpea varieties used in the UAS experiment with support from department of biotechnology, government of Switzerland, Bose Institute, Kolkata and Assam Agriculture Universities.

The Centre has now brought in UAS and seed company Mahyco to fuse the transgenic varieties and commercially release the Super Chickpea. Mahyco signed the formal deal to produce the seeds before Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

The commercial release is expected to take about six years since it has to clear two layers of regulatory approval before hitting the market. One of Karnataka’s most popular chickpea varieties, Annagiri, will first receive the resistant traits. Salimath said it will also be introduced into two relatively new varieties JG11 and BGD103.

Being a major source for protein in vegetarian diet, chickpea has been cultivated in 7.5 million hectares across the country.  “Seventy years of plant breeding was unable to produce a resistant line against pod borer. In our Bt chickpea, insecticide level is much higher than it is in Bt cotton,” said Bidyut K Sarmah, the Assam scientist who worked on the Bt chickpea. 

Sampa Das from Bose Institute insisted that the ASAL gene is safe to use. He said the gene can be made to express in sections that are particularly vulnerable to sucking pests.

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