Thiruvananthapuram: In a state that has shunned genetically-modified crops like sin, the UDF government is planning to introduce transgenic trees to improve forest growth and timber quality.
“Plants can be multiplied by clonal propagation and improved through gene transfer of valuable genes and the plant-microbe system,” the Perspective Plan 2030 brought out by the Planning Board says. “Increased use of biotechnology enables us to increase forest growth, introduce more climate-adaptable species, and facilitate pest management,” the plan adds.
The UDF government, right after assuming power in 2011, had taken an unequivocal stand against GM-crops. In response to the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, the Agriculture Department told the centre that the state would not permit any GM research or even trial within the boundaries of the state. However, the Perspective Plan recommends gene transfer.
“Biotechnological applications using clone propagation, markers-aided selection and breeding, gene transfer and beneficial microbes are already having an impact on how some trees are being bred, propagated, developed, and managed,” the plan says.
Four fundamental gains could emerge out of biotechnology or phytotechnology applications on wild trees. One, the increase of the volume of wood. Two, the modification of the wood quality. Three, an intensification of the heavy metal absorption to promote land rehabilitation. Four, increased resistance against vermin and plant diseases.
The pitfalls, environmentalists warn, could spell ecological disaster. They fear that engineered traits could spread to other trees and organisms through gene transfer. Pesticide-resistant transgenic trees, for instance, could transfer the resistant gene to pests and in the process give birth to ecological Frankenstein monsters.