Probe blames three scientists for US gene shock in Desi Bt cotton

FP

An inquiry committee has blamed then National Research Centre for Plant Biology director P Ananda Kumar, University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS, Dharwad) scientist I S Kategari and then Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR, Nagpur) director B M Khadi for the situation that arose after a gene patented by American multinational Monsanto had been found in the Bikaneri Nerma Bt cotton (BNBt), described as Desi Bt cotton and commercialised by CICR.

After the story had been first reported by The Indian Express in December, the government appointed the panel led by JNU vice chancellor S K Sopory and including Punjab Agriculture University VC B S Dhillon, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology deputy director R V Sonti, ICAR secretary Rajiv Meharshi and its additional director general N Gopalakrishnan.

The panel's report says the three scientists erred not only by not performing their roles as scientists but also on administrative counts.

"There were indications, prior to commercial release, that BNBt was contaminated with the Monsanto gene (MON531). If corrective measures had been taken at that time by those involved in development and commercialisation of BNBt, the situation that has now arisen could have been avoided," the panel observes.

"Commercial seed production procedure was not followed even though there is a well-established procedure in this regard. For example, had the breeders/seed production scientists been more careful in monitoring, the segregation/admixture for morphological traits like petal and pollen colour could have been easily identified and red flags raised."

It says Kumar should have been more active in engaging himself with the activities at UAS. "He should have been careful at the time of project-writing and not allotted molecular biology work to Kategari. He should also have ensured the development of event specific markers for BNBt."

About Khadi, it says he had maintained he had no prior idea of the Monsanto gene's presence but a letter he wrote this year to the ICAR director general indicates the contrary. "(In) May 2008, Dr K R Kranthi, HOD, plant protection, CICR, informed me regarding the Mon-531 contamination/presence in the seeds tested," Khadi wrote. The panel says, "This indicates that Khadi was aware of the problem, at least in May 2008. Crucially, this was before actual commercialisation of BNBt."

... contd.

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