A Rubber Board research farm on the outskirts of Guwahati now sports the world’s first genetically modified (GM) rubber plant tailored for the climatic conditions in the Northeast.
The GM rubber has additional copies of the gene MnSOD, or manganese-containing superoxide dismutase, inserted in the plant, which is expected to tide over the severe cold conditions during winter — a major factor affecting the growth of young rubber plants in the region.
The plant was developed at the Kerala-based Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII).
Planting the GM rubber at the research farm at Sarutari off the highway to Meghalaya capital Shillong on June 22, Rubber Board Chairman and Executive Director K.N. Raghavan said the RRII had earlier developed two high-yielding hybrid clones of rubber adapted to the climatic conditions of the Northeast.
“This is the first time any GM crop has been developed exclusively for this region after years of painstaking research in RRII’s biotechnology laboratory,” he said.
Natural rubber is a native of warm humid Amazon forests and is not naturally suited for the colder conditions in the Northeast, which is one of the largest producers of rubber in India.
“Growth of young rubber plants remains suspended during the winter months, which are also characterised by progressive drying of the soil. This is the reason for the long immaturity period of this crop in the region. The MnSOD gene has the ability to protect plants from the adverse effects of severe environmental stresses such as cold and drought,” Dr. Raghavan said.
Laboratory studies conducted at the RRII showed the GM rubber plants overexpressed the MnSOD gene as expected, offering protection to the cells. The plant is thus expected to establish well and grow fast in the region.
Allaying unfounded fears about GM rubber, Dr. Raghavan said the planting had been done at an experimental level following all mandatory biosafety measures applicable to field trials involving GM crops.
There was no risk of genes flowing from the GM rubber into any other native species, a concern often raised by environmental groups against GM plants in general, Rubber Board officials said.