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GM crops beneficial, but should be used with care

Genetically modified crops should first be made to go through preliminary tests and tried on a small scale before they are put to large scale use. Vanita Srivastava reports.

delhi Updated: Jan 21, 2013 00:31 IST
Vanita Srivastava

Genetically modified crops should first be made to go through preliminary tests and tried on a small scale before they are put to large scale use, Prof Krishna Dronamraju, president, Foundation for Genetic Research, Houston, USA, has said.

“I am not completely against GM crops. But research has shown that GM technology may have some undesirable results such as toxicity and allergenic effects on some individuals. Preliminary testing on a small scale is necessary before approving large scale application,” he told HT.

Even if genetic modification works for one crop, it does not mean that it will work for another. The land, crop, soil and the genetic variety have to be specified to see what kind of genetic modifications are actually needed, he added.

Prof Dronamraju, who was in India to participate at the Indian Science Congress held earlier this month in Kolkata, said genetic modification was a complex technique whose safety levels must be ensured.

Highlighting the emerging trends in biology, he said that an interaction between nano-biotechnology, human gene therapy and synthetic biology will be the thrust of future biological interventions.

Maintaining that both human gene therapy and synthetic biology have a bright future, he said: “Potentially, they are powerful and revolutionary tools in the eradication of disease and the evolution of healthy humans. Future promising developments will include foetal gene therapy where corrective DNA can be introduced into the cells of the defective foetus, so a defect can be corrected even before the baby's birth. “

Speaking on synthetic biology, he said that chemically synthesized cells and chromosomes were being built to make synthetic copies of very simple bacterial cells. “As more complicated systems, tissues and organs are made synthetically, exciting prospects will arise for the large scale production of synthetic hearts, lungs, kidneys, limbs and other organs – which will be used for transplantation.”

Acknowledging that anti-sense technology was emerging as the future of medical science for treating a number of diseases, including cancer, he said: “Anti-sense drugs are being developed to treat several types of cancer and other diseases such as diabetes, muscular dystrophy and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). One anti-sense drug has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as treatment for cytomegalovirus retinitis.”