Genetic Engineering in Agriculture: Transforming Crop Improvement for Global Food Security

Genetic Engineering in Agriculture


In an era dominated by formidable global challenges like climate change and food security, science-based technologies, particularly genetic engineering, have become indispensable tools for advancing crop improvement. This article sheds light on the pivotal role of genetically modified (GM) crops as a vital complement to traditional breeding methods in the relentless pursuit of global food and nutrition security.

Unveiling Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Decoding GMOs: A New Frontier in Agriculture

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living entities, spanning plants, animals, and microorganisms, whose DNA has undergone deliberate modifications, rendering them impervious to conventional breeding or natural genetic recombination. This groundbreaking technology, interchangeably known as “modern biotechnology,” “gene technology,” or “genetic engineering,” allows the transfer of specific genes across unrelated species, ushering in a new era of agricultural innovation. Crops or foods derived from these modified organisms are often referred to as GM crops or GM foods.

GM Crops: A Panacea for Global Food Security

Paving the Way for Food Security

The quest for global food security has been a matter of paramount concern, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals’ aspiration of ‘zero hunger’ by 2030. To achieve this, there is an imperative to expedite crop enhancement through genetic modification. The goal is to cultivate improved crop varieties capable of thriving in diverse environments, enhancing productivity, and diminishing reliance on finite natural resources. While the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s significantly bolstered food production, the prevailing challenges, including climate change, necessitate the development of novel biotech/GM crops endowed with enhanced traits.

Global Adoption of GM Crops

Embracing Genetic Modification Worldwide

The embrace of genetic modification technology for agricultural improvements extends across the globe. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) in 2020, 72 countries have harnessed GM crops for diverse purposes, encompassing human consumption, animal feed, and commercial agriculture. Developing nations, in particular, account for 56% of the global GM crop cultivation area, underscoring the significance of these technologies in elevating agriculture in resource-constrained regions. Countries like Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, and the United States have reaped substantial benefits for individual farmers and their respective nations.

Focusing on Mustard for Edible Oil Self-sufficiency

Revolutionizing Mustard Production to Meet Edible Oil Demand

India grapples with a glaring deficit in edible oil production, relying on imports to fulfill 60% of its demand. Mustard, a staple oilseed crop in India, exhibits significantly lower productivity compared to the global average. Hence, elevating mustard’s productivity emerges as a pivotal strategy for bolstering both farmers’ economic well-being and the nation’s self-reliance in edible oil production.

Enter the Center for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (C.G.M.C.P.) at the University of Delhi, the progenitor of the game-changing GM crop, DMH-11. This genetically modified mustard hybrid, meticulously developed through extensive research, carries the potential to amplify domestic edible oil production and augment agricultural incomes. It incorporates a herbicide tolerance gene, revolutionizing the production of genetically modified hybrid seeds.

The Dawn of DMH-11: A Transgenic Mustard

Deconstructing DMH-11: A Triumph of Genetic Engineering

DMH-11, an indigenous hybrid crop and a genetically modified version of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) mustard, represents a monumental leap in agricultural innovation. This groundbreaking mustard variety springs from the fusion of India’s own ‘Varuna’ mustard variety with ‘Early Heera-2’ mustard from Eastern Europe. What sets DMH-11 apart is the integration of two foreign genes, ‘barnase’ and ‘barstar,’ sourced from the soil-dwelling bacterium Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. These genes play a pivotal role in stimulating the development of high-yielding commercial hybrid mustards.

In ‘Varuna,’ barnase induces temporary sterility, thwarting natural self-pollination. On the flip side, ‘Early Diamond-2’ offsets barnase’s effects, facilitating seed production. The tangible impact of DMH-11 is undeniable, boasting approximately 28% higher yields compared to the national standard and an impressive 37% boost over regional benchmarks. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has sanctioned its use, specifically emphasizing the inclusion of the “bar gene” in DMH-11, which preserves genetic purity, augments agronomic potential, and fortifies stability.

A Historic Milestone: GEAC’s Approval for Cultivation

A Watershed Moment for Agriculture

On October 25, 2022, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, Government of India, delivered a historic verdict by endorsing DMH-11 and its parent species for cultivation. This monumental decision heralds a new era in genetic engineering research within India, opening pathways for the development of mustard hybrid varieties boasting superior traits, including disease resistance and heightened oil quality.

The Benefits of GM Mustard

Empowering Farmers and Enhancing Self-sufficiency

The approval and adoption of DMH-11 for cultivation hold the potential to substantially amplify mustard production per hectare, directly contributing to increased farm incomes. This pivotal development is poised to diminish India’s reliance on edible oil imports, which amounted to roughly 13 million tonnes valued at ₹1.17 lakh crore in the fiscal year 2020-21. GM mustard cultivation aligns with India’s aspiration for self-reliance in edible oil production while fostering sustainability in agriculture.

Challenges Associated with GMO Crops

Navigating the GMO Landscape

Despite the promise of GM crops, there are several challenges and concerns to contend with:

  1. Health and Environmental Uncertainties: The long-term effects of cultivating genetically modified organisms (GMOs), such as GM mustard, on public health, soil quality, the food chain, and groundwater remain largely uncharted.
  2. Unintended Consequences and Irreversible Changes: Genetic modifications harbor the risk of unforeseen consequences and irreversible genetic alterations, potentially leading to unanticipated problems and toxicity.
  3. Weed Proliferation and Nutrient Depletion: GM crops can exacerbate weed issues, notorious for nutrient depletion in soil and obstructing vital nutrient absorption by crops.
  4. Allergy Risks: The mixing of proteins not naturally present in organisms through GMOs poses a potential allergy risk, heightening allergic reactions in humans.
  5. Biodiversity Threat: GMOs can undermine biodiversity by altering the genetic makeup of wild crop varieties.
  6. Financial Burden on Growers: GM adoption often translates into recurring expenses for growers who must purchase new seeds from GM crop companies for each planting, placing a financial burden on them.
  7. Ethical Concerns and Tampering with Nature: The development of GMOs raises ethical dilemmas, questioning the integrity of natural organisms and the act of manipulating nature through cross-species gene amalgamation.


In summation, the integration of genetic engineering into agriculture isn’t merely a choice but an imperative strategy in the relentless quest for global food security. GM crops have already exhibited their potential to positively impact billions of lives. The recent endorsement of DMH-11 in India marks a significant stride towards achieving self-sufficiency in edible oil production.

Hence, it is evident that the continual advancement of improved GM food crops is pivotal for elevating the economic prospects of Indian farmers and ensuring a sustainable future for agriculture. Nevertheless, it is imperative to acknowledge and effectively address related concerns and issues as we embrace science-based solutions to combat the ever-evolving challenges in food production and global nutrition. Balancing innovation with prudence is key as we navigate the intricate landscape of genetic engineering in agriculture.

Genetic Engineering in Agriculture: Transforming Crop Improvement for Global Food Security

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top