The Next GM Food: Pest Resistant Eggplant

eggplantFirst there was the genetically modified tomato, then Bt corn and soy. Along the lines of developing such genetically modified plants, scientists were able to look for other plant species that may be able to have a significant impact on the lives of the greater human population. And it seems that the next plant in line would be the eggplant.

According to an article in the Science Daily website, a team of Cornell researchers in collaboration with the Sathguru Management Consultants of India have successfully completed the first phase of trying to develop a genetically modified pest resistant eggplant. The new genetically engineered eggplant produces a natural pesticide that was derived from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). This natural pesticide makes the eggplant more able to resist attacks from the destructive fruit and shoot borer. This pest is known to destroy about 40 percent of eggplant harvests annually in South and Southeast Asia.

The eggplant is a widely grown crop in the subtropical and tropical countries such as India and Bangladesh. With the Bt eggplant being able to produce its own natural pesticide, commercial insecticide use can effectively be reduced by about 30 percent. Not only that, with the Bt eggplant seen to produce higher yields during harvest, it may prove beneficial for both farmers as well as consumers. Farmers may be able to earn more through better yields while the market may lower the prices for consumers due to an increase in overall eggplant supply.

The development of the pest resistant eggplant was started by researchers from the Cornell Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialization in 2002 and in collaboration with an international consortium or public and private sectors tasked to develop the very first genetically engineered crop in South Asia. The said genetically modified plant is being scheduled to be released commercially in the market by 2009 after the essential field trials and testing have been achieved successfully.

The pest resistant eggplant is continually being developed in India where the safety tests for the Bt eggplant are currently being conducted. Safety tests already conducted have been on the initial laboratory and greenhouse trials. So far, the said genetically engineered eggplant has been found to be nontoxic to other animals such as fishes, chickens, rabbits, rats and cattle. The Bt eggplant has also been found to be non-allergenic.

The next step in testing the Bt eggplant would be moving towards large scale field trials. The next tests will try to examine how the plant would be able to maintain its resistance to fruit and shoot borers on the long term. The next tests would also study if Bt eggplants would cross pollinate with other eggplants in the field and if they do, determine how far away should Bt eggplants be planted from other eggplant fields. Further studies would include if the Bt eggplant would also affect other non-target insect populations as well as compare the yields from other eggplant varieties.

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