Recently, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) issued the ‘Guidelines for Genetically Engineered Insects’, which provide procedural roadmaps for those interested in creating GE insects.
What are the Highlights of the Guidelines?
Exempts Researchers from Seeking Approvals:
- It exempts researchers who use gene-editing technology to modify the genome of the plant from seeking approvals from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
- The GEAC evaluates research into GM plants and recommends, or disapproves, their release into farmer fields.
- The Environment Minister, as well as the States where such plants could be cultivated, takes the final call. The Environment Ministry too has sanctioned this exemption.
- The guidelines provide a road map for the sustainable use of genome editing technologies and applicable to public and private sector research institutions engaged in research and development and handling of genome edited plants.
Issues Guidelines Address:
- Most often, GM plants that have drawn such scrutiny are those that use transgenic technology or introduce a gene from another species into a plant, such as BT-cotton, which uses a soil bacterium gene to protect against pest attack.
- The controversial aspect of this method is that these genes may spread to neighboring plants, where such effects are not intended, causing worry.
What are the issues with the guidelines?
- Uncertainty of purpose – The guidelines only provide regulatory procedures for R&D on insects with some beneficial applications.
- The guidelines don’t specify the purposes for which GE insects may be approved in India or how the DBT envisions their use.
- Uncertainty for researchers – The guidelines are applicable only to research and not to confined trials or deployment.
- There is no criteria to approve the deployment of GE insects
- Categorising – The guidelines define GE insects by their risk group and not by the end product.
- Uncertainty of ambit – The guidelines offer standard operating procedures for GE mosquitoes, crop pests, and beneficial insects.
- There is a lack of clarity about the insects and the modifications to them that are deemed ‘beneficial’.
- The absence of a precise stance to identify and promote research priorities hampers progress.
- Unintentional ill effects – Genetic engineering can also be used to unintentionally generate malicious products.
- The new guidelines don’t sufficiently account for more dangerous possibilities.
Governments need to address the challenges linked to GM crops, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, industrial policy, and food labeling.
FAQs on Genetically Modified Insects and the Guidelines for Genetically Engineered Insects
Genetically Modified (GM) insects are insects whose genetic material has been altered through genetic engineering techniques. This involves making targeted changes to their DNA to introduce or suppress specific traits, which can potentially lead to beneficial applications.
The highlights of the Guidelines for Genetically Engineered Insects are as follows:
Researchers using gene-editing technology to modify the genome of the insects are exempted from seeking approvals from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
The guidelines offer a roadmap for the sustainable use of genome editing technologies and apply to both public and private sector research institutions engaged in research, development, and handling of genome-edited insects.
GM plants that have drawn scrutiny in the past are those that use transgenic technology, which involves introducing a gene from another species into a plant. An example of this is BT-cotton, which uses a soil bacterium gene to protect against pest attacks.
The guidelines lack clarity on the purposes for which GE insects may be approved in India or how their use is envisioned by the Department of Biotechnology.
They only apply to research and do not cover confined trials or deployment, leaving uncertainties for researchers.
There is no specified criteria for approving the deployment of GE insects.
The guidelines categorize GE insects by risk group rather than by the end product, which can lead to confusion and complications.
The guidelines provide standard operating procedures for GE mosquitoes, crop pests, and beneficial insects, but there is a lack of clarity on what insects and modifications are considered ‘beneficial’.
The guidelines do not sufficiently address the potential unintentional ill effects of genetic engineering, including the possibility of generating malicious products.
Governments should focus on addressing safety testing, implementing appropriate regulations, formulating industrial policies, and implementing clear food labeling measures related to GM insects. This would help ensure responsible research and application of genetically engineered insects.
Genetically modified insects have the potential for various applications, such as controlling crop pests, disease vectors (e.g., mosquitoes transmitting diseases like malaria), and other beneficial purposes. However, the guidelines do not clearly define the approved purposes for GM insects in India.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) evaluates research into genetically modified plants and insects and recommends, or disapproves, their release into fields or deployment. The Environment Minister, as well as the States where such plants or insects could be cultivated or deployed, takes the final decision on approval.
Researchers should follow the guidelines provided by the Department of Biotechnology and other relevant regulatory bodies to ensure responsible use of gene-editing technologies on insects. They should prioritize safety, ethics, and environmental considerations while conducting research and developing genetically modified insects.
To address unintended ill effects of genetic engineering, researchers and regulators should conduct thorough risk assessments and safety testing during the development of genetically modified insects. Before understanding their potential impacts, researchers must take precautions to prevent the unintentional release of modified insects into the environment.
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