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SCIENCE & PLANTS: Indian farmers can breathe easy as salt-tolerant GE crops arrive soon



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:  FARMERS CAN BREATHE EASY AS SALT-TOLERANT CROPS ARRIVE

SOURCE: The Economic Times, India

AUTHOR: Avinash Nair

URL:    http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News/Economy/Agriculture/Farmers_can_breathe_easy_as_salt-tolerant_crops_arrive/articleshow/3757430.cms

DATE:   26.11.2008

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FARMERS CAN BREATHE EASY AS SALT-TOLERANT CROPS ARRIVE

AHMEDABAD: Faced with the enigma of rising salinity ingress on their farmlands, farmers can now look forward to transgenic crops. A central research institute is developing ?salt-tolerant? varieties of crops like groundnut, tobacco, cumin and banana that aim at revolutionising the food-basket in 6.7 million hectares of ?salinity-affected? farmland in the country, most of which is in Gujarat.

The Bhavnagar-based Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI) is in the advanced stages of developing salt-tolerant varieties of groundnut and tobacco. ?Though we have successfully grown three generations of the crop in the laboratory, it will take 2-3 more years before the new variants of groundnut and tobacco are available commercially,? said Bhavanath Jha, deputy director and head of Marine Biotechnology & Ecology division at CSMCRI.

?The necessary clearance for these transgenic crops is expected to take some time. Meanwhile, we are in the preliminary stages of developing salt-tolerant variety of cumin (?jeera?) and also planning to develop a similar variety of banana,? Mr Jha said while adding that the cultivable area has been steadily shrinking due to salinity and adversely affecting crop production.

According to the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute (CSSRI) at Karnal (Haryana), 6.7 million hectares of farmland in the country has been affected by salinity ingress. ?Of the salinity-affected areas, 20% are on the coastal areas, while the rest are inland areas. States like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have the highest percentage of land area affected by salinity,? said Gurbachan Singh, director of the institute which has already developed salt tolerant varieties of rice, wheat and mustard (which were released by the Central Varietal Release Committee and are being grown widely in salt affected areas of Punjab, Haryana, UP, Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal and many other states).

?In Gujarat, two-third of the area under groundnut cultivation in Saurashtra and Kutch regions have been affected by salinity. This is a huge loss because 90% of the total groundnut production of Gujarat (18 lakh tonne in 2007-08) is cultivated in the districts of Bhavnagar, Amreli, Junagadh, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Veraval, Porbandar and Surendranagar districts of Saurashtra peninsula,? said Mr Jha. The numbers are significant considering that Gujarat accounts for 70% of the total groundnut produced in India.

Assisted by central bodies like the department of science and technology, ICAR and CSIR, the Bhavnagar-based CSMCRI has been developing salt-tolerant groundnut ?as national priority.? This institute has identified a ?salt-resistant gene? from a plant called Salicornia, a small shrub that grows in saline environs of marshes, beaches and mangroves, and incorporated it into the ?salt-sensitive? crops like groundnut.

?In our experiment with tobacco, we have found that the new salt-tolerant variety has a significant increase in the bio-mass, meaning that the tobacco leaves are larger than its actual size,? Mr Jha said.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:  TNAU DEVELOPING GENETICALLY MODIFIED PAPAYA

SOURCE: The Hindu, India

AUTHOR: Press Trust of India, India

URL:    http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/015200812091423.htm

DATE:   09.12.2008

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TNAU DEVELOPING GENETICALLY MODIFIED PAPAYA

Madurai (PTI): The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) is developing a Genetically Modified Papaya that would resist ?ring spot virus? responsible for destroying Papaya cultivation in thousands of acres in the country. ?Tissue culturing work had been completed and the gene had been identified. We have to cross some steps before fully developing the GM papaya?, TNAU Vice Chancellor Dr.C.Ramasamy said. ?We have to develop our own variety as the virus, casued by white fly is peculiar to India?, he said while talking to media here on the sidelines of Second International Symposium on Papaya here on Tuesday. He said The Department of Biotechnology had allocated funds for the project and it would take another three years for coming out with GM Papaya. He said Papaya had attained a status of industrial crop across the world in view of its commercial uses. The area of Papaya cultivation had increased by three fold in the last ten years and India emerged as the fourth largest pa
 paya producer. Another area where papaya had to be given focus was the genetic purity of seeds. Though Germ plasm conservation and development of new varieties were vital activities of papaya improvement, genetic purity of the seeds should not be compromised in the interest of above objectives, he said.



                                  PART 3

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  MONSANTO?S BT DREAMS TO BE NURTURED AT PAU

SOURCE: Express India, India

AUTHOR: Amrita Chaudhry

URL:    http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/monsantos-bt-dreams-to-be-nurtured-at-pau/390512/

DATE:   26.11.2008

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MONSANTO?S BT DREAMS TO BE NURTURED AT PAU

Ludhiana While the jury is still out and debating on the safety of introducing bio-transgenic crops in the food chain, Punjab Agricultural University is all set to enter into a business relationship with Monsanto, a biotech company. The institute has so far unabashedly promoted Monsanto?s Bt crops, including Bt cotton.

Monsanto is all set to fund research programmes at PAU, where topping the list are bio-transgenic crops, followed by plants efficient in nitrogen uptake and crop varieties that can break the current yield barriers.

Interestingly, while PAU, being a research and educational institute, is still working out its gains, Monsanto, on other hand, is very clear about the collaboration. ?The first right on the technology and product developed through PAU and Monsanto collaboration stays with Monsanto, while PAU will get its share of royalties,? says Dr Amarjit Singh Basra, a senior scientist with the multi-national company, who is currently on a visit to PAU.

He says, ?We are a biotech company and our prime area in PAU will also be the same. We are looking at funding research at PAU and in case we are able to develop a technology which is a result of this collaboration, Monsanto will develop the product and hold first right over it while the technology will stay with PAU, for which we will pay the institute a royalty.? When questioned about the introduction of BT crops into the food chain, Dr Basra justified his company?s stand, ?When we make a discovery, it is put through rigorous safety checks not by us alone, but by other US agencies as well. And it is only after seven years that a said crop is introduced for commercial purposes. Moreover, nations that allow entry of these crops have a system of checking themselves.?

The upcoming collaboration has, meanwhile, raised the hackles of groups that are fighting for a Bt-free India. Kavitha Kurungati, secretary general of the Coalition for GM-Free India, when asked to comment on this development, said, ?Monsanto as a company has been documented to have fudged records regarding safety of its products; it has penalised small farmers; it has been documented to pay bribes to get the needed nods. In short, it is totally and completely anti-farmer. PAU, by siding with Monsanto, is not only ditching farmers, but is also playing with tax payers? money. In a state where farmers are reeling under an agrarian crisis and a state which is facing environmental disaster, this collaboration is nothing but bad news.?

Dr M.S. Kang, PAU Vice-Chancellor, meanwhile, added, ?While we have a team of biotechnologists working on transgenic crops, and this is one area that Monsanto can intervene, we are also looking at technologies to reduce nitrogen pollution in Punjab. Monsanto is working on Bt brinjal and Bt papaya, while we will work on all those crops where we need to reduce the pesticide load.?

Dr Basra claims, ?In Punjab, farmers use fertilisers as insurance for a higher yield and at present we have no technology where we can tell farmers to reduce fertiliser load and still get the same yield. In such a scenario, nitrogen, which is carcinogenic in nature, is leeching into the soil and polluting the underground water. Monsanto is now working on crops where uptake of nitrogen is faster and more efficient and where we can break the yield barriers. At Monsanto, we spend anything like $ 2-3 million each day on crop research the world over.?

Meanwhile, the crops where possible collaboration could be undertaken include rice, cotton, soybean and maize.


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