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7-Business: Indian biotech sector heads for commercially-orientedGE crops

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                                  PART I
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TITLE:  Sowing research
SOURCE: The Hindu Business Line, India, by Ambar Singh Roy
DATE:   June 11, 2003

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Sowing research

What's on at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur?
Research projects to develop application-oriented end products in the
Genetically Modified domain.

A SILENT revolution is brewing within the four walls of what used to be
the official residence of the jailor of the Hijli Jail at Kharagpur,
within the premises of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur
(IIT-KGP) and behind the old administrative headquarters of the
institute. Therein, a group of seven scientists headed by Prof S.K. Sen,
- a biotechnologist who has headed a number of prominent teams - is
engaged in transgenic research. The research is towards generation of
application-oriented end products in the Genetically Modified (GM) domain.

Transgenic research involves the transfer of genes from one organism to
another even as the focus of the GM domain is on designed alteration of
the genetic make-up of an organism and where it is inherited by the
recipient in a stable manner.

Facilitating their research is a field laboratory and a containment
facility. All under the umbrella of IIT-BREF Biotek, which is
administered and finacially controlled by IIT-KGP.

The focus of the research team, entirely self-financed by project grants,
is on areas such as agri-biotechnology, industrial enzymes, microbial
technology and plant biotechnology. From genetically-engineered organisms
from plants to microbes, the idea is to generate value-added new products
that have commercial use and utility. A total of 11 projects - from the
UNDP, the Rockfeller Foundation, the Department of Biotechnology of the
Government of India, the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research and
Indian corporates - have been taken up.

Says Prof Sen, Head of IIT-BREF Biotek, "It is imperative now to channel
our energies towards application and commercially-oriented
biotechnology." In a firm defence of GM domain-centric technology and
applications, he says that the bacterial toxin Bt (Bacillus
thuringiensis) "is an insecticidal toxin which is innocuous to any other
organ except its targeted application." Bt Cotton is an example that can
be cited in this regard.

According to him, GM technology is"scientically-proven" and its
widespread application would only subserve the interest of humankind
globally, especially in pharmaceuticals and agriculture. In China, for
example, over 100 different types of farmlands will switch over to GM
technology by 2004. As such, despite conflict among scientists and
opposition to GM technology in some quarters, the technology itself
should not be pushed aside, he says. An international protocol on
safeguards already exists and specified safety measures are in place.

Despite this, a section of the scientific community feels that the toxin
has not been tested enough and can have a residual impact on future

However, since the Bt gene is application-specific, it does not alter the
agronomic properties of any crop plants. In fact, GM takes into account
all aspects of technology i.e. toxicological, nutritional, agronomic,
cost-effectiveness and all this with regard to various agro-climatic
conditions, he says.

"With GM technology and its applications, we can specifically recommend
that this is not suitable for one place and suitable for another".

Says Prof Sen, "We, as a nation, are not technologically bankrupt. But
technology cannot progress unless we take it from the grassroots level to
the application level. For this, it is imperative for the business
community to have adequate and appropriate confidence in the scientific
community." Adds Arindam Dutta, IIT-BREF Biotek's Co-ordinator, Industry-
Institute Partnership, "From the research laboratory point of view, we
feel that, for technology to be scaled up, there is a need for hand-
holding of industry on a continual basis."

The focus, in the days ahead, will be on new areas such as insect
resistants, early flowering, modified fatty acids composition in
vegetable oils, hybrid seed production through transgenic means,
pathogen-resistant croplands and nutritionally value-added fruits, among
others. GM-centric work is also being done on rice and cotton, besides
mustard, chickpea, pigeonpea and jute.

According to Prof Sen, the long-term objective of the research team "is
to get into the excitement of contemporary science and scientific
developments and reap the benefits of its commercial application".

If the enthusiam of Prof Sen and his team is any indication, that should
not be a very tall order.

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  'Farmers will decide future of GM crops'
SOURCE: The Hindu Business Line, India
DATE:   June 9, 2003

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'Farmers will decide future of GM crops'

THE International Seed Federation (ISF) believes that farmers across the
world would decide the future of genetically-modified crops. Addressing a
press conference here on Monday, the Secretary General of the ISF, Dr
Bernard le Buanec, said farmers across the world, after seeing the
benefits of transgenic crops were in favour of the technology and were
demanding introduction of genetically-modified crops.

"Farmers are not against GM crops, they are demanding it...whether it is
in Brazil, where they have six million hectares of GM soyabean despite
being banned or in Europe... Biotechnology and genetic modification is a
tool to improve plant varieties and it is being accepted," Dr Le Buanec said.

He called upon the media and anti-GM activists not to make "a mountain of
the issue." "GM is not a technology that could solve the problems of the
world. It is not a tool that will solve the world...if the farmer finds
it good and not endangering the environment, he will favour," he said.

According to Mr Le Buanec the "mad cow disease" scare in Europe and the
episode of contaminated blood in France had "aggravated opposition to GM

Dr Christopher Ahrens, President, ISF, said though there were initial
outcries of Bt cotton in the US, the situation had changed now with
nearly 80 per cent of the produce being the GM crop. Mr Ahrens said India
had immense potential to emerge as a major seed producer. The base was
being set up for India to play a major role in the world market, by
enacting a legislation for plant variety protection and quality testing
seed laboratories accredited to the International Seed Testing Agency, he

Mr Deepak Mullick, Managing Director, Advanta India, and member of Indian
Seeds Federation, said advance booking for Bt cotton seeds in the country
this year had gone up by nearly 10 times. Bt cotton was being planted
this year in one lakh acres, nearly 10 times more than last year, Mr
Mullick said adding, "We cannot say the technology is not good. It is for
the farmer to decide"

Mr Mullick said Indian seed exports would grow ten- fold to touch $200
million by 2005 from the current level of $20 million. Two more testing
laboratories would be accredited to the international agency, besides the
one already functioning in the city, he said.


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