Even as the government is shilly-shallying on GM mustard and making life hard for Monsanto, Maharahtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) and Arcadia Biosciences have announced they have achieved success with salt tolerant rice during trials and will be moving to the next stage.
The rice strains showed higher performance in acute salt stress conditions and the company would proceed ‘to incorporate these rice lines into elite materials’, Mahyco’s Chief Technology Officer Usha Barwale Zehr said in a press statement.
The trait that produces the tolerance has been obtained from a gene which is native to rice and has not been imported from another organism. ‘We have changed its expression characteristics by making it more abundant in all cells of the rice plant. This has increased the ability of the plant to deal with higher levels of salt in water and soil,’ Bharat R Char, who leads biotechnology research at Mahyco said in response to emailed questions.
The process was initiated in 2008-09. The trials were done over two years, first in greenhouses and then in contained field conditions. The rice lines showed double-digit yield increases under saline conditions but there was no loss of yield (or yield penalty) under normal conditions, Mahyco said. There will be futher trials in the next (third) phase with adaptation of the trait into commercial lines, which will take about three years.
In India, about 8.6 million hectares are salt-affected, of which three million hectares are coastal areas reclaimed from the sea or prone to sea water intrusion. It is estimated that about 20 percent of the country’s cultivated rice area is affected by salinity.
Given the hostility to genetically-modified crops in India, Mahyco intends to take the technology to rice-growing areas in South Asia, like Bangladesh and even to East Asia (Vietnam).
Bangladesh is already cultivating Mahyco’s Bt brinjal, after India imposed a moratorium following an outcry from activists.
Mahyco is a Jalna, Maharashtra based pioneer in agri-biotechnology. It has an equal joint venture with Monsanto for genetically-modified cottonseed. Arcadia is based in California.
(Top photo: Normal rice on the first panel to the left, salt-tolerant rice on rest. Courtesy: Mahyco)