India has delayed the introduction of their insect resistant eggplants.
Read about it in:
Author’s note: This would seem to be the week for vegetables I hated as a kid. Yesterday was onion, today tomato, if there’s a story about brinjal/eggplant in the next few days we’ll have hit all the big ones. 😉
I was recently pointed to an early publication paper that went up on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website on Monday, where a research group at India’s National Institute of Plant Genome Research describes two genes from tomato that, when knocked down by RNAi*, result in tomatoes that can remain ripe but not spoiled for up to three times as long as tomatoes where these two genes function normally.
Their approach targets specific genes involved in breaking down certain proteins found in the cell walls of tomatoes (in fact in the cell walls of all plants). Breaking down the cell wall is a key part of ripening in fruits (which the tomato is, botanically if not culinarily). Which makes sense if you’ll think about it for a moment. One of the traits we associate with ripening is getting softer, from bananas to peaches if it’s still crunchy when you bite into it, it wasn’t ripe. What makes plants stiff and crunchy? The strength of their cell walls. Since, unlike vegetables, fruits WANT to be eaten**, as they ripen they begin to break down their cell walls to make themselves more appealing to passing animals. Unfortunately, ripening and spoiling are, in a lot of ways, the same process. If fruits aren’t eaten when they become ripe, they continue to get softer, transitioning from delicious looking -> unappetizing -> inedible -> a puddle of mush on your kitchen counter.
Preventing ripening entirely is relatively easy, and there are plenty of known mutants in tomatoes and other species that never ripen (these naturally mutant tomatoes stay green and hard no matter how long you wait). But getting part of the way to ripeness but stopping before crossing the line into spoiled is a much less tractable problem.
From the article:
China produces 31 percent of the world’s rice and 20 percent of its corn, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. …[China] uses 7 percent of the world’s arable land to feed a quarter of its population.
China has only 7% of the world’s farmland yet feeds more than 1.3 billion people (and still growing). No wonder they’re investing so heavily in crop/plant science.
Another one I recently read (if it was you, sorry for not attributing it properly, the comparison just stuck in my head) was that India and Argentina are about the same size (India is about a quarter bigger) yet India must feed 30 times as many people!*
*Of course this isn’t quite a fair comparison since Argentina exports so much food to Western Europe, since those countries can afford to buy food abroad instead of focusing on increasing local production, and China and India must
Anastasia has started an interesting discussion over at Biofortified about the food served at the Obamas’ first state dinner, a reception for the visiting Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh.*
The dinner was quite light on meat** and included both traditional American and Indian foods. As I said last night on the twitter feed: Anyone who serves naan and cornbread in the same meal has my approval.
*Prime Minster Singh comes from the Indian National Congress which formed a coalition government with several other Indian parties rule the country. Indian party politics are very complex, though in some ways it could be argued a complex multiparty system is more responsive to the wishes of voters than the two party system we have here in the US (I’m waiting for a program to run and have too much time to think).
**The reporter for the nytimes seems to have lumped prawns (a crustacean similar to shrimp, although I always associate them with the crayfish I had to dissect in intro bio) with the vegetarian parts of the menu…
We’ve been hearing more about India in the news lately. Along with the decision about whether or not to approve bt eggplants (brinjal), India is also debating a set of new biotechnology intellectual property laws. As I’ve said in the past India currently doesn’t recognize genetic patents, so anybody can breed transgenes into their own seeds and sell them. Of course the only legalized GE crop in India right now is cotton but as others are legalized, the same situation would apply.
I’ll admit I disagree with this quote:
Clinton said she favoured a strong intellectual property or patent regime (IPR) to safeguard the ownership of agricultural research, as that would be in ‘everyone’s interest’.
India is faced with the question of how best to balance protection for creators, to encourage biotech research, and the rights of farmers, to make sure they get the most possible benefit from that research. It is important to strike the right balance between the two, not just cater to the desires of one side of the other. It’s the same issue faced by every country when it comes to regulating everything from pharmaceutical research to the music industry.
And I have faith India will find the right balance. After all we’re talking about a country where cheap pirate copies of movies are available cheaply and easily on every street corner sometimes before movies even make it into theaters, yet Bollywood (the Indian film industry based in Mumbai) is quite profitable, turns out twice as many films as Hollywood, and is probably the only other national film industry, other than America’s, recognized around the world.*
First, the Indian government has yet to greenlight the commercialisation of Bt brinjal — crucial for the future of these ‘Bt brand’ companies — even after a thumbs up from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). … the MNCs who produce ‘Bt’ seeds, as genetically modified or GM crops have come to be popularly known (patents would ensure that no one else would be allowed to produce or sell these seeds).
*Off the top of my head I’d recommend Krrish and Salaam/Namaste as examples of entertaining movies Bollywood has put out recently, and Gol Maal as a hilarious one from several decades ago.
Over 60% of India’s workforce still works in the agricultural sector. Most are tenant farmers living in small villages, and a recent survey says a minimum of 40% of them would rather be doing something else rather than farming. At the same time the country is facing a looming crisis with as crop yields haven’t grown much since the green revolution, and population continues to.
Scientific Name: Gossypium itscomplicated*
Details of Genetic Engineering:
Cotton has been genetically engineered to resist both glyphosate (by Monsanto) and glufinsate (by Bayer CropScience) under the names Roundup Ready and LibertyLink respectively. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, there are both economic and scientific advantages to having more than one herbicide/herbicide resistance system as it tends to keep prices down, and slows the development of resistant weeds when any resistance they evolve to one herbicide will be useless if the farmer switches to the other for the next growing season.
But the big deal when it comes to genetically engineered cotton is bt cotton that substantially reduces insect damage (and insecticide applications). In the US both Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences sell their own versions of bt cotton using different bt proteins with different specificities. The Chinese government has also developed and deployed their own bt cotton varieties. Bt cotton is the most widely grown** type of genetically engineered plant in the world today, grown in countries like China, India***, and Australia, where other genetically modified crops are not yet approved, for the obvious reason that it’s harder to get people upset about wearing “unnatural” things than eating them.****