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Designer maize as good as milk

tech reviews Updated: Jan 23, 2008 14:39 IST
Utpal Parashar

Good news for those who hate milk but would like to get its benefits. A new variety of maize has been developed by scientists in Uttarakhand that has protein quality, which is close to that of milk.

This new variety developed through marker-assisted selection technology, which is non-transgenic has 30 per cent more lysine and 40 percent more tryptophan, than what is found in ordinary maize grown across the country.

Despite being the third most cultivated and consumed cereal in the country, the traditional types of maize that are grown in India are deficient in these two amino acids considered the building blocks of proteins.

"The maize variety that we have developed has higher quantity of these amino acids and it is 80 per cent closer to milk in protein quality," said Dr Harishankar Gupta, Director of Almora-based Vivekananda Parvatiya Krishi Anusandhan Sansthan.

The initiative started in 2003 with the aim of adding biological value to maize involved screening segments of genome in genetically distinct varieties of maize to find the right combination of two varieties for cross breeding.

For this, the scientists chose QPM (quality protein maize), a variety developed at the International Maize Research Institute in Mexico two decades ago and introduced in some African nations to improve health of severely malnourished children.

Although this variety was imported and cultivated, it took 120 days to grow the imported maize in plains and 130 to 140 days in hill areas, which was significantly higher than the ideal period of 85-90 days.

"It affected the crop pattern and cultivation of wheat got delayed. Hence we decided to incorporate the Opaque-2 gene of QPM responsible for higher lysine and tryptophan into a local variety called Vivek-9," said Dr Gupta.

While conventional breeding techniques take nearly 10 years to develop a new variety of maize, with help of marker-assisted technology scientists at the institute were able to do it in just three years.

In genetic modification through alien genes, crops get new properties by insertion of genes from bacteria or plants. But this method is environmentally sound as it does not involve insertion of a gene from any other organism into the crops.

The new improved variety called Vivek QPM9 has been tested all over India in collaboration with the Delhi-based Directorate of Maize Research and approved for commercial cultivation in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

"Normally the yields in hybrid varieties get reduced, but in this case production has remained unaffected. In Uttarakhand, we have also tested Vivek QPM9 for organic conditions and got good results," he said.