Once approved for the market, the GM potatoes can be one of the protein sources for millions of Indian with protein deficiency, who consume potato as a staple food. However, it may take many years as one more regulatory hurdles have to be overcome.
Researchers at National Institute for Plant Genome Research, Delhi, which first transformed potato a decade ago, tried their hands on popular varieties this time. The protein content was up between 35 and 60 per cent—higher than what they achieved last time.
“The most vital difference is all are commercial varieties unlike last time when we genetically modified a non-commercial variety,” leader of the team and NIPGR founder Asis Datta told Deccan Herald. The gene (AmA1) came from Amaranth plant.
The transformed varieties are Chipsona 1 and 2, Jyoti, Sutlej, Badsah, Bahar and Pukhraj. A two-year trial in collaboration with the Central Potato Research Institute, Modinagar, showed that in all varieties, the protein content went up between 35 and 60 per cent. The gain was the highest in Sutlej and Chipsona 1.
If a regular potato has one gm of protein, the protein-packed ones would have 1.5-1.6 gm. Even though the increase appears to be marginal, researchers claim this is the best bet on GM potato as the protein quality is very high.
Th other initiatives to make protein-rich GM potato led to “an imbalance of amino acid profile in transgenic crops,”they reported in Tuesday’s issue of “Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.”
Asked why potato was transformed in the first place, as there are other sources of edible plant proteins, NIPGR scientist Subhra Chakraborty said since potato constituted an important part of the diet of many people in many countries, the gene was introduced into potato.
“Potatoes are grown as vegetable for consumption and also as raw material for many processed foods worldwide. World production-wise it is the first amongst vegetable and fourth amongst all food crops,” she said.
But potato’s nutritional value is somewhat compromised as itlacks lysine, tyrosine and Sulphur containing amino acids. These deficiencies are not only made up in GM potatoes, but it also brings more proteins in the tuber.
“If the protein content goes up by 50 per cent its welcome. But do we need every single crop to be transgenic? Also one has to be careful on the safety as well as transparency during the regulatory approval,” said Suman Sahai, who heads Gene Campaign, an NGO.
The GM potatoes were approved by the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation. It has to be cleared by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee under the Union Environment Ministry before commercialisation.