A field within the sprawling campus of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Trombay is the testing ground for a pest-resistant variety of black gram (urad dal). If the experiment is successful, the pest-resistant species could revolutionise the production of black gram, which traditionally is highly susceptible to pests.
Four other research institutes across the country have also begun experiments with the pest-resistant species, which was found growing wild on the foothills of the Trombay hills adjoining the nuclear facility in 1996 by scientist J Souframanien and his colleagues at BARC.
“We accidentally discovered the wild species on a regular visit to monitor field trials in the campus. When we transferred the genes of the species to regular seeds, we found that the mutant showed resistance to pests,” said Souframanien, who works in the nuclear agriculture department of BARC.
While this is the first time scientists have used a wild species found within the campus for research, the 850-hectare green campus boasts of rich biodiversity (see box). “The biodiversity of Trombay hills is extremely good. Since it is a restricted area (owing to the nuclear plant) and no grazing is allowed on the hills, the diversity has been preserved,” said Marselin Almeida, botanist and former vice-president, Bombay Natural History Society.
Apart from natural vegetation, more than a million saplings were planted in the campus as part of an afforestation drive undertaken in the 1950s and 1960s.