Transgene Flow from Bt Brinjal: a real Risk?

Bt brinjal too can create super weeds. 

Gene flow from a transgenic plants has remained a contentious issue. In the absence of experimental data, the task to pinpoint exactly as to how much is the potential risk, especially in centres of diversity, becomes daunting. The GM industry has often used lack of experimental data to show there is no cause for concern. It has happened in India, in the case of Bt cotton, and more recently when the moratorium on Bt brinjal came in 2010.

John Samuels of the Novel Solanaceae Crops Project, Penzance, Cornwall, UK, has raised some valid concerns, based on available data, in an excellent paper published in Trends in Biotechnology (Vol 31, Issue 6, June 2013). Admitting that transgene flow from Bt brinjal to wild, weedy and cultivated relatives is a major biosafety concern, he writes in an article Transgene Flow from Bt Brinjal: a real Risk?(URL: “in preliminary risk assessment tests in India in 2007, only four spiny species were tested for interfertility with S.melongena  ( They found only Solanum incanumL. (the nearest wild relative of brinjal) to be crossable; however, the production of hybrid progeny was not investigated.” With such limited scientific studies available, obviously gene flow was considered to be not much of a problem.

Citing various reasons like inadequate experimental methodologies and erroneous nomenclature of the parent species, John Samuel tells us that the biosafety implications of hybridisation remained compromised. Looking through the research data now available, he says that six wild relative species and four cultivated species have the potential to crossbred with the transgenic Bt brinjal. I have taken this table out from the article for an easy understanding.

Table 1 Solanum species of India known to cross with brinjal
Species Common name Status
S. aethiopicum L. Scarlet eggplant Cultivated
S. cumingii Dunal Wild brinjal Wild
S. incanum L. Bitter tomato Wild
S. insanum L. Weedy brinjal Wild
S. macrocarpon L. Gboma eggplant Cultivated
S. marginatum L.f. White-margined nightshade Wild/introduced
S. ovigerum Dunal Brinjal landraces Cultivated
S. torvum Sw. Pea eggplant Sometimes cultivated/introduced
S. violaceum Ortega Indian nightshade Wild
S. virginianum L. Bitter brinjal Wild


His conclusion: “Furthermore, the risk assessment of pollen-mediated transgene flow from Bt brinjal, if cultivated in Bangladesh or the Philippines, should not rely on the inadequate, previously undertaken ERA (Environmental Risk Assessment) tests.” Hope the scientists as well as the science administrators are listening. Especially in the light of latest revelations that show how super weeds are becoming a nuisance in United States and Canada.

Robustness and Strategies of Adaptation among Farmer Varieties of African Rice (Oryza glaberrima) and Asian Rice (Oryza sativa) across West Africa

“New research from West Africa challenges the widely held view that African and Asian ‘farmer rice’ varieties have only local value owing to their poor ability to adapt to adverse environmental conditions.

Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and AfricaRice in Benin studied 26 varieties of rice developed and cultivated locallyby farmers in five West African countries between 2006 and 2012. They were varieties of both African rice (Oryza glaberrima) and Asian rice (Oryza sativa). Their findings suggest that farmer rice varieties can grow without fertilisers, require no special maintenance and can develop ways of coping with stress. This makes them highly adaptable to a wide range of environments.”

For the full article, see

The Impact of Organic Farming on Quality of Tomatoes Is Associated to Increased Oxidative Stress during Fruit Development


Tomatoes grown on organic farms accumulate higher concentrations of sugars, vitamin C and compounds associated with oxidative stress compared to those grown on conventional farms, according to research published February 20 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Maria Raquel Alcantara Miranda and colleagues from the Federal University of Ceara, Brazil.

2013 Impact of Organic Farming on Quality of Tomatoes is Associated to Increased Oxidative Stress during Fruit Development

This study was conducted with the objective of testing the hypothesis that tomato fruits from organic farming accumulate more nutritional compounds, such as phenolics and vitamin C as a consequence of the stressing conditions associated with farming system. Growth was reduced in fruits from organic farming while titratable acidity, the soluble solids content and the concentrations in vitamin C were respectively +29%, +57% and +55% higher at the stage of commercial maturity. At that time, the total phenolic content was +139% higher than in the fruits from conventional farming which seems consistent with the more than two times higher activity of phenylalanine ammonia lyase (PAL) we observed throughout fruit development in fruits from organic farming. Cell membrane lipid peroxidation (LPO) degree was 60% higher in organic tomatoes. SOD activity was also dramatically higher in the fruits from organic farming. Taken together, our observations suggest that tomato fruits from organic farming experienced stressing conditions that resulted in oxidative stress and the accumulation of higher concentrations of soluble solids as sugars and other compounds contributing to fruit nutritional quality such as vitamin C and phenolic compounds.

Aurelice B. Oliveira, Carlos F. H. Moura, Enéas Gomes-Filho, Claudia A. Marco, 

  • Laurent Urban,


  • Maria Raquel A. Miranda


Bt maize pollen will harm butterflies in Europe – study

#BtMaize pollen will harm butterflies in Europe – study

NOTE: Below is the abstract of an important new study that concludes that the planting of Bt maize in some areas of Europe would cause increased mortality in the larvae of the protected peacock butterfly (Inachis io).

Interestingly the authors note that their study contradicts the findings of a previous study by Joe Perry and colleagues. Perry is the current chair and a long-time member of the EFSA GMO Panel, which assesses the risks posed by GMOs submitted for approval in the EU. Perry concluded there was negligible risk from Bt maize to the peacock butterfly and the two other species examined.

The authors of the new paper say they used more empirical data in their study than Perry and colleagues – in other words, hard data based on what actually happens to the butterfly and Bt maize pollen in nature, rather than assumptions.

The authors conclude that “a more comprehensive assessment is warranted of the risk implied to butterflies when and where Bt maize is grown.” They add, “We contend that such an assessment is best carried out using empirical data, which invites scientific review and integration of knowledge, rather than on expert opinion, on which a qualified assessment is not possible.”

This is a clear criticism of the lack of empirical data currently used in GMO risk assessments by EFSA, which are based heavily on flawed assumptions. It is also a criticism of the system of expert opinion that EFSA currently relies upon. This system is being replaced in some areas, such as evidence-based medicine, by more progressive risk assessment methods based on a systematic and replicable search and evaluation of all available data using pre-set transparent criteria. While far from perfect, these methods are increasingly being viewed as more reliable than expert opinion.

Increased mortality is predicted of Inachis io larvae caused by Bt-maize pollen in European farmland
Niels Holst, Andreas Lang, Gabor Lövei, Mathias Otto
Ecological Modelling 250 (2013) 126–133

A potential environmental risk of the field cultivation of insect-resistant (Bt-toxin expressing) transgenic maize (Zea mays) is the consumption of Bt-containing pollen by herbivorous larvae of butterflies (Lepidoptera). Maize is wind-pollinated, and at flowering time large amounts of pollen can be deposited on various plants growing in the landscape, leading to inadvertent ingestion of toxic pollen with plant biomass consumed by these butterfly larvae. To examine the possible effect of this coincidence, we focused our study on the protected butterfly Inachis io and two regions of Europe. Using climatic records, maize and butterfly phenology data, we built a simulation model of the butterfly’s annual life cycle, over- laid with the phenology of maize pollen deposition on the leaves of the food plant Urtica dioica, and linked these with the dose–response curve of I. io larvae to Bt-maize pollen (event MON810). The simulations indicated that in Northern Europe, where I. io is univoltine, Bt-maize pollen would not be present on the food plant at the same time as the I. io larvae. However, in Central and Southern Europe, where I. io is bivoltine, Bt-maize pollen and the second generation I. io larvae would coincide, and an increased mortality of the larvae was predicted. This prediction differs from earlier studies which predicted negligible effect of field-grown Bt-maize on I. io larvae. Our model is an improvement over previous efforts since it is based on more detailed, empirical data, includes more biological detail, and provides explicit estimation of all model parameters. The model is open-source software and is available for re-use and for modelling the effects on other species or regions.

Doing Different Things or Doing It Differently? – Rice Intensification Practices in 13 States of India

Can the System of Rice Intensification be the answer to meet the country’s future rice demand? A macro-level study covering 13 major rice-growing states indicates that fields with SRI have a higher average yield compared to non-SRI fields. Out of the four core SRI components typically recommended, 41% adopted one component, 39% adopted two to three components, and only 20% adopted all the components. Full adopters recorded the highest yield increase (31%), but all adopters had yields higher than those that used conventional practices. They also had higher gross margins and lower production costs compared to non-SRI fields. Though the rice yield of the country can significantly increase under SRI and modified SRI practices, there are major constraints that have to be tackled before this can be achieved.
Vol – XLVIII No. 08, February 23, 2013 | K Palanisami, K R Karunakaran, Upali Amarasinghe, and C R Ranganathan Special Articles


Present and future water resources in India: Insights from satellite remote sensing and a dynamic global vegetation model

India is a country of particular interest with regard to its future water resources, as it is expected to undergo continued rapid population growth while also being especially sensitive to climate change. The Land-surface Processes and eXchanges Dynamic Global Vegetation Model (LPX-DGVM) is used here to simulate present and future runoff in India using ClimGen pattern-scaled scenarios of 1◦, 2◦ and 4◦C temperature increase (scaled to 2050) forced by six general circulation models (GCMs). As is the case with many DGVMs, groundwater storage is not simulated by LPX, so in order to form a more comprehensive understanding of water resources, Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite estimates for north-west India are incorporated into this study and compared to LPX runoff simulations. Runoff is simulated to have increased slightly (1.5 mm/year) in this region during 2002–2006, while groundwater extractions appear to have been made at rates of 40 ± 10 mm/year. North-west India is simulated to experience considerable increases in runoff by 2070–2099, with a mean change of 189 mm/year for 2◦C climate change (although the range of model results, 247 mm/year, demonstrates high uncertainty among GCMs). Precipitation is shown to have an important bearing on runoff generation, while the degree of warming is shown to affect the magnitude of future runoff. This may subsequently influence the longevity of the local groundwater resource. However, at recent rates of depletion and in view of expected population growth, the long-term sustainability of groundwater reserves in north-west India is in doubt.
Author: S J Murray,
School of Earth Sciences, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, Queens Road, Bristol, BS8 1RJ, UK.


Roles, Strategies, and Capacities to Strengthen Extension and Advisory Services

Extension and advisory services (EAS) 1 play an important role in agricultural development. However, these services need new capacities to address the current challenges in agriculture and to contribute better to agricultural innovation – a process that that requires interactions and knowledge flows among a wide range of actors in the agricultural innovation

system (AIS).

A summary of this paper is available here.