Fascinating science behind development of Bt eggplant

Bt eggplant, which is genetically modified to produce an insecticidal protein, is safe to consume and can protect eggplant from the fruit and shoot borer, which is cited as the “most destructive pest.”

To control the pest, many farmers douse their eggplant crop in chemical pesticides, sometimes dipping the unharvested eggplants into a mix of chemicals to get rid of the pests. Bt eggplant, which is being field-tested in the Philippines, could be used to reduce the need for chemical pesticides.

However, environmental and anti-GMO activists have claimed that the protein, which is naturally produced by the microorganism Bacillus thuringiensis, is toxic to humans.

Entomologist Emiliana Bernado, a member of the Institutional Biosafety Committee of the University of Philippines-Los Baños, says that Bt could not be absorbed into the human body. The Bt protein is activated by the alkaline environment of an insect’s stomach. Human stomachs are highly acidic, so the protein would be destroyed when ingested.

“Bt eggplant was developed by genetically engineering a gene from the bacteria so that the GM eggplants now produce a protein that defends it against insect attacks,” explains Dr. Michael Purugganan, a Filipino plant geneticist. Bt comes from Bacillus thuringiensis, a common soil microorganism that has been used for decades as bacterial suspension spray to control insects in vegetables. It is naturally present in the Philippine soil and had been in use for years without any harmful effects.

Read the full, original story: Are Bt eggplants safe to eat?

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