India’s maiden genetically modified PAU BT1 cotton variety meets abrupt end
Experts ask farmers to stop using it from current kharif season citing pink bollworm scare; developed indigenously by a Ludhiana-based institute in 2017, PAU Bt1 seed variety was aimed at reducing farmers’ cost input on the cash crop that is an economic lifeline of hundreds of farmers in the semi-arid region of Punjab.
It is the end of road for country’s first genetically-modified Bt cotton seed variety developed by a public sector institute from the fields in the state as Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) experts have asked farmers to stop using it from current kharif season citing pink bollworm scare .
Developed indigenously by a Ludhiana-based institute in 2017, PAU Bt1 seed variety was aimed at reducing farmers’ cost input on the cash crop that is an economic lifeline of hundreds of farmers in the semi-arid region of Punjab.
PAU officials said widespread infestation of the deadly pink bollworm in 2021 forced them to stop promoting the variety that was sown in limited areas in different districts before rolling it out commercially in a big way.
“Unlike the hybrid Bollgard or BG1, a Bt seed, sold by the private sector, PAU Bt1 variety had a distinction to reuse seeds. Field trials of this variety began in 2018 after a patent held by a corporate ceased in 2016. PAU worked for almost a decade to develop it and in the next four years since 2018, results of Bt1 variety were overwhelming in terms of pest resistance, yield and quality,” said Paramjit Singh, PAU director of Bathinda-based regional research station.
Singh, who was part of the team of scientists that developed the variety, said PAU Bt1 was effectively resistant to all three bollworms- American, spotted and pink.
“But pink bollworm attack on hybrid BG2 cotton last year made us cautious about the threat to the PAU variety. Technically we have not recalled it but apprehensive that the variety is likely to be susceptible to the pink bollworm,” added the expert.
State agriculture director Gurvinder Singh said Bt1 cotton was considered a landmark achievement of the PAU as the commonly used varieties in the past were developed by multinational companies.
“During a recent inter-state consultative and monitoring committee of cotton-growing states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, experts appreciated PAU’s contribution. Now we all are looking up to them to redress the challenge thrown by pink bollworm,” said head of the farm department.
Journey of Bt cotton seeds in India
The Bt cotton plants are genetically modified by adding toxin-producing genes into the gene pool. Bt is a group of proteins derived from Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria. There are more than 150 different types of Bt toxins, each making seeds resistant to different types of pests.
Indian authorities gave a nod to hybrid BG1 cotton seeds in 2002 and its official use was first started in Punjab in 2005 after the major attack of American bollworm.
In 2009, BG2 was rolled out to tackle the identified three main types of pests that tend to develop resistance to previous levels of toxins.
A hybrid cotton seed like BG 2, which is currently used by cotton growers, costs ₹1,600 to 1,700 per acre whereas the per acre cost of PAU Bt1 variety was around ₹600. Central authorities approved PAU Bt1 for Punjab and Rajasthan.
“The new variant had its requirements a bit different on seed usage per acre and PAU experts were working with progressive farmers to set protocol. Results were very encouraging but bollworm infestation proved a setback for the team of scientists,” said another PAU farm expert Jagdish Grover.