For centuries, many developing as well as developed countries faced a major food scarcity because of shrinking agricultural land and low levels of harvests. In the late 20th century, this problem was addressed with Genetically Modified or GM crops.
Using transgenics, these GM crops gave rise to a new age of agriculture. One such advancement is Bt crops.
Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt) crops are genetically engineered/modified plants which are resistant to insects, parasites and other pests. Bt for plants was first used in mass to grow tobacco. Eggplants, cotton and corn. Afterwards, additional cash and food crops followed.
By 2016, more than 185 million hectares across the world grew Bt crops.
These crops have the endospore or crystal toxins of Bacillus thuringiensis, which makes them immune to pests. In 1995, the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency or EPA certified the use of these crops.
The power of transgenics allows humans to implant the Bt gene inside plant seeds. Note that the crystal toxins are also referred to as cry toxins.
Bt eggplant (known as Bt brinjal) and Bt Cotton are enormously popular in India.
It must be noted that there are several experts who do not appreciate this widespread usage of GM crops, both in India and abroad.
Task for you: Want to know how are Bt crops made? Log on to the official website of EPA and learn more on this subject. It is difficult but interesting. Also, you can check more details on cry toxins and how they ward off pests.
Bt brinjal was one of the first genetically modified, insect-resistant plants in India. It was introduced by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company, also known as MAHYCO. Monsanto, one of the world’s foremost and also controversial seed manufacturers, helped MAHYCO develop the product.
Monsanto also holds a substantial stake in this Indian entity.
The agriculture of eggplants or brinjals in India has often been hampered due to a major pest: the eggplant shoot borer or Leucinodes orbonalis.
That risk, plus the amount of insecticide needed to keep the borer at bay, have been two reasons why Bt brinjal has been pushed in India.
This brinjal seed contains a specific gene- cry1Ac – which grants it protection against pests.
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For advanced Students: Agri-ethics and the necessity of GM crops are debated throughout the world. Identify and note down a list of Bt crops grown globally. Then, find out how Monsanto has helped in the production of Bt cotton-which we will learn.
There are several documentaries for and against Monsanto and Dow AgriSciences- another giant company. You can learn more about what is Bt gene.
Interestingly, in 2010, the then-Minister of Environment, Jairam Ramesh, had asked for a moratorium on the farming of Bt eggplants/brinjals till a comprehensive report was out.
In 2020, such GM brinjals are still sowed both legally and illegally.
Bt cotton, produced by Monsanto as well as Dow AgriSciences, is another genetically engineered product commonly used in India. Using cry toxins, Bt cotton can withstand attacks by mothballs, beetles and butterfly larvae.
India has, since 2014, been the world’s largest producer of Bt cotton. The product was introduced by Monsanto and MAHYCO in 2002.
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Able to withstand pest attacks.
Minimal insecticide and fertiliser required, lowering production costs.
Increased productivity in smaller land patches.
Profitable for marginal farmers.
Seeds more expensive than conventional/common variants.
Pests may grow immune to the GM seeds.
Natural gene flow between crops is fatally sidelined.
Ethical issues. You may need to study more on these issues using Vedantu’s resources.
For more details on the latest research on GM crops, advanced students of biology can visit white-papers published by the United States’ National Center for Biotechnology Information and its NIH publications.
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1. In Which Year Was Bt Cotton Introduced in India?
Ans. 2002. It was co-developed by India’s Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company & Monsanto.
2. Why are GM Seeds Considered Dangerous?
Ans. Several reasons, including ethical, ecological, logistical and health-related concerns have forced many countries, including India, to rethink their GM seed strategy.
3. What is Meant by Bt Cotton?
Ans. Bt cotton is a high-yield modified cotton seed with a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis implanted via genetic engineering. It is resistant to most pests.