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Researchers from the Delhi-based National Institute of Plant Genome Research of the Department of Biotechnology have developed a rapeseed mustard variety to yield a bland oil with insect-repelling compounds using genome editing (GE) technology, BQ Prime wrote.

The research team developed mustard with a low level of glucosinolates compound in its seeds but not in the rest of the plant, the 18 August report said.

Glucosinolates defended brassica plants against predatory pests and pathogens but mustard oil had a pungent taste and de-oiled mustard meal was repellent to cows, pigs and poultry, the report said.

Working on a popular mustard variety called Varuna, the researchers developed a low glucosinolates-in-seed variety that produced a non-pungent oil.

The study focused on two genes – GTR2 and GTR2 – that transported glucosinolates from their source in leaves and pod walls to the seeds.

In the project, the team edited 10 of them using an agrobacterium to deliver enzymes that acted as scissors to the genetic sites where the transporter genes are located, the report said.

Following the genome editing, glucosinolates in seeds in the first generation of self-pollinated plants ranged from 6.21-145.88 mcmol/gm of seed weight compared to an average of 146.09 mcmol/gm in non-edited plants, the scientists reported in an article published in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

In the second generation, the compounds were as low as 3.40 mcmol/gm in some of the mutated plants, while in the third-generation levels ranged from 17.72-30.46 mcmol/gm.

According to research team leader Naveen C Bisht, the new GE mustard is stable and fertile, meaning it can be multiplied through self-pollination and the mutated traits would be inherited by progeny plants.

The next stage was to produce enough seeds during the next planting season, the report said.

The seed multiplication would be conducted later in the year, with nationwide trials in late 2024/25, the report said.

However, prior to commercial cultivation, licensing would be required from GE CRISPR-Cas 9 technology patent holders, BQ Prime wrote.

Last year, the Indian government approved the mustard hybrid DMH-11 for commercial cultivation – the country’s first permitted GM food crop.

However, commercialisation had been held back by litigation in the Supreme Court filed by anti-GM activists, the report said.