The Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII) will carry out confined field trials of newly-developed genetically modified (GM) rubber plants at the Sarutari Farm of its Guwahati regional research station, its director Jessy MD has said.

“The trials will be carried out following the standard operating procedures issued by the Biotechnology Department on one acre of the farm. The stress-tolerance traits under field conditions, disease incidence and yield will be evaluated for 15 years before their commercialisation,” she said.

Two weeks ago, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) approved field trials for GM rubber called Hevea.

RRII has been instrumental in developing the transgenics and conducted follow-up actions for the grant of permission for field trials, she said.

She said the commercial release of any transgenic plant is possible only after conducting field trials and the Centre has a strict regulatory framework for the release of transgenic plants. Accordingly, RRII submitted an application for holding the trials of the osmotin gene incorporated transgenic plants to the review committee for genetic manipulation.

Limiting factors

The demand for natural rubber is increasing and land available in the traditional areas is limited for the expansion of rubber cultivation. For increasing production, rubber cultivation is required to be carried out in non-traditional regions as well. Adverse environmental conditions such as high and low temperatures, high light intensity, soil moisture stress, etc are limiting factors for rubber cultivation in these areas.

Rubber requires a warm humid tropical climate and climatic stresses have the potential to affect the growth and yield of rubber. Breeding for stress tolerance is a priority area of research of the RRII and evolving new clones requires more than 20 years of continuous evaluation, as rubber is a perennial tree, she said.

Biotechnological interventions are increasingly used for shortening the breeding cycle of rubber. Defined genes of agronomic importance are transferred and over-expressed through molecular approaches to confer desired characteristics to the crop and are evaluated in the laboratory as well as in the field. Through this targeted approach, agronomic traits such as stress tolerance and yield of elite clones can be improved, she added.

The Biotechnology and Genome Analysis team is headed by Kala RG and scientists Rekha K, Jayashree R, P Kumari Jayashree and Thomas KU have been instrumental in getting the required permissions for confined field trials from GEAC.