Context:

The Government is yet to decide on a research proposal from its own scientists which would allow plants to be genetically modified without the need for conventional transgenic technology.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Science and Technology (Biotechnology, Genetically Modified crops), GS-III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Newer technologies for GM
  2. About the GEAC’s pending decision on new technologies
  3. Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
  4. Cartagena Protocol

About the Newer technologies for GM

  • Scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute have now moved to newer technologies such as Site Directed Nuclease (SDN) 1 and 2 – which aim to bring precision and efficiency into the breeding process using gene editing tools such as CRISPR.
  • In the case of these new technologies, scientists are just tweaking a gene that is already there in the plant, without bringing in any gene from outside.
  • When a protein comes from an outside organism, then there is a need to test for safety. But in this case, this protein is right there in the plant, and is being changed a little bit, just as nature does through mutation.
  • A research coalition under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which includes the IARI, is using these techniques to develop rice varieties which are drought-tolerant, salinity-tolerant and high-yielding.

About the GEAC’s pending decision on new technologies

  • Unlike the older GM technology which involves the introduction of foreign DNA, the new proposal involves the use of gene editing tools to directly tweak the plant’s own genes instead.
  • Scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute are in the process of developing resilient and high-yield rice varieties using such gene editing techniques, which have already been approved by many countries, and they hope to have such rice varieties in the hands of the Indian farmers by 2024.
  • However, the proposal for Indian regulators to consider this technique as equivalent to conventional breeding method has been pending with the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for almost two years.
  • As on October 2021, India has not approved any Genetically Modified (GM) FOOD crop for commercial cultivation.

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).

  • The top biotech regulator in India is Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
  • The committee functions as a statutory body under the Environment Protection Act 1986 of the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF).
  • GEAC is responsible for granting permits to conduct experimental and large-scale open field trials and also grant approval for commercial release of biotech crops.
  • The Rules of 1989 also define five competent authorities for handling of various aspects of the rules:
    • The Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBSC),
    • Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation (RCGM),
    • Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC),
    • State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC) and
    • District Level Committee (DLC)

Cartagena Protocol

  • The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement on biosafety as a supplement to the Convention on Biological Diversity effective since 2003.
  • The Biosafety Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by genetically modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.

-Source: The Hindu

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