India, the birthplace of eggplant (locally known as brinjal), is the second-largest producer of the crop worldwide. Every year, however, Indian farmers are losing over half of their crops to the eggplant fruit and shoot borer. As their only perceived defense against the pest, farmers are slathering their crops with chemical pesticides at concentrations so high that the vegetables are left with residue levels hundreds of times higher than those permissible. Scientists have been working to find an alternative, safer line of defense through genetic engineering.
Starting in the mid 1990s, Kumar and other scientists working for both universities and biotechnology companies in India—including Mahyco, a seed company partially owned by Monsanto—began devising a way to deter the fruit and shoot borer and dramatically increase eggplant yields without using so many noxious insecticides. They would still rely on a toxin to kill the larvae, but instead of synthetic chemicals they would use poisonous proteins produced by a common soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)—toxins organic farmers had safely used as a form of biological pesticide since the 1920s. Rather than formulating a spray or powder, though, the researchers were going to borrow the bacterium’s toxin-making gene and insert it into the eggplant’s DNA so the plant could produce Bt toxin on its own. The resulting Bt eggplants would kill only the fruit and shoot borer and possibly closely related species, leaving other insects and creatures unharmed.
Read the full, original story here: “Farming a Toxin To Protect Crops, Pollinators and People”
- “Filipino Ruling on Bt Eggplant,” Scientific American
- “Pest resistance in Bt crops,” Biofortified, Inc.
- “Restructuring Facts in Bt Cotton: Why Skepticism Fails,” Economic and Political Weekly