...you say 'protato'

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: India, Amino acid, Nutrition

Genetically modified potatoes, developed to tackle malnutrition
among poor Indian children, are in the final stages of testing,
according to a report in the journal New Scientist.

Genetically modified potatoes, developed to tackle malnutrition among poor Indian children, are in the final stages of testing, according to a report in the journal New Scientist​.

The report claims that anti-poverty campaigners have given 'cautious support' to the 15-year project.

The GM potatoes are part of an anti-hunger plan, formulated in collaboration with charities, scientists, government institutes and industry, currently under consideration by the Indian government.

Govindarajan Padmanaban, a biochemist at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, who outlined the plan at a conference at the Royal Society in London in December, said he hopes the project will not receive the negative reaction seen with news of AstraZeneca's "golden rice", a strain modified to make more vitamin A, continued the report.

."The requirements of developing countries are very different from those of rich countries,"​ he told the New Scientist. "I think it would be morally indefensible to oppose it."

Researchers at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi added the AmA1 gene to potatoes, so that they make a third more protein than usual, including substantial amounts of the essential amino acids lysine and methionine, explained the report.

AmA1 is a gene from the amaranth plant, grown by native South Americans and now available in some Western health food stores.

"The potato doesn't contain a pesticide gene,"​ said Padmanaban. "It's a gene that improves nutrition, and it's from another plant that is already eaten. Moreover, it's not a known allergen."

The New Scientist noted that this might help make the food more acceptable in India, where local activists oppose the recent licensing of Bt cotton - which carries a gene for a bacterial pesticide.

Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, a Delhi-based sustainable development group opposed to the patenting of plants, told the journal that the potato should only be adopted if it passes all safety and environmental requirements, and if the extra protein is digestible.

"India's problem is that we're vegetarian, so pulses and legumes are the main protein source, but they're in short supply and expensive. The potato is good because it's cheap,"​ she told the report.

New Scientist added that while it is not necessary to resort to genetic engineering to improve nutrition (bread and wheat flour can be easily enriched in protein simply by adding peanut flour), this proves more expensive and previous schemes have failed.Nevertheless, the developments are likely to be controversial.

Related topics: Science

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