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Checkbiotech: Scientists produce seed hybrid for Indian farmers
Posted by: DR. RAUPP ; madora (IP Logged)
Date: March 02, 2005 07:43AM ; ;

A new disease-resistant hybrid produced by an international group of
scientists is set to provide a lifeline for poor Indian farmers. The hybrid
has been produced in record time using modern biotechnology techniques,
February 2005 by Nabanita Sircar.

This month India released its first hybrid using modern DNA techniques.
"This is something new and something very big" stated Professor Witcombe,
from the University of Wales, Bangor who manages the research programme "it
has taken an international team of scientists more than a decade of hard
work to produce this new hybrid and I believe it marks the beginning of a
revolution in pearl millet breeding."

The use of revolutionary DNA techniques to improve a crop that is grown only
by the poorest farmers in India and Africa is seen as nothing short of
remarkable. Until now agricultural biotechnology has been driven almost
exclusively by the private sector for farmers in the developed world.

"We want to change all that and give the poorest farmers a real chance of
benefiting from the first products of this new Gene Revolution" says Tom
Hash, a plant breeder from ICRISAT, a member of the research team.

The crop in question is pearl millet; know as the poor man's crop because it
grows in the hottest, driest places where no other crop can survive. Tens of
millions of poor people depend on its grain to eat and its leaves and stems
to feed to their animals.

More than half of the world's pearl millet is grown in India where it seems
to survive almost anything - anything that is, except downy mildew (which
had caused the Irish potato famine). This devastating disease can destroy up
to one third of the crop and worryingly the most popular pearl millet hybrid
grown in India is now showing signs of susceptibility to the disease. If the
disease hits the crop in epidemic proportions then farmers are looking at
losses in grain yield worth at least US$ 8 million.

In an effort to find a solution the UK Department for International
Development funded an international team of scientists to develop the tools
to read the genetic sequence of pearl millet. With the help of the genetic
map, scientists were able to identify the genes required for resistance to
downy mildew. Resistant genes were taken from pearl millet grown in Africa
and India and introduced into one of the parents of the new hybrid. No
foreign genes were introduced and the hybrid was produced naturally so the
product was the same as that of traditional breeding - not a GMO.

"The application of biotechnology has produced this new hybrid in a third of
the time usually required and so has given us a head-start in the fight
against the disease" says Witcombe. "downy mildew is a slippery customer
that eventually manages to get past our defences. It's the battle we've won
but not the war."


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