Guwahati, June 22: The Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII) located on the outskirts of Guwahati Assam, created the world’s first genetically modified (GM) rubber plant, specifically tailored for the climatic conditions of Northeast India.

The rubber has additional copies of the gene MnSOD. This form of manganese contains superoxide dismutase, inserted in the plant. This is expected to tide over the severe cold conditions during winter, which is a major factor affecting the growth of young rubber plants in the region.

The GM rubber was planted on the research farm at Sarutari on June 22 by the Rubber Board Chairman and Executive Director, K.N. Raghavan. He said that the RRII had earlier developed two high-yielding hybrid clones of rubber specially adapted to the climatic conditions of the Northeast.

Natural rubber is a native of warm humid Amazon forests and is not naturally suited for the colder conditions in the Northeast, which is one of the largest producers of rubber in India.

This is the first time any GM crop has been developed exclusively for this region after years of painstaking research in RRII’s biotechnology laboratory,” said Dr Raghavan.

Growth of young rubber plants remains suspended during the winter months, which are also characterized by progressive drying of the soil. This is the reason for the long immaturity period of this crop in the region. The MnSOD gene can protect plants from the adverse effects of severe environmental stresses such as cold and drought,” he continued.

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Laboratory studies conducted at the RRII showed the GM rubber plants overexpressed the MnSOD gene than expected, thus offering protection to the cells. The plant is thus expected to establish well and grow fast in the region.

Allaying unfounded fears about GM rubber, Dr Raghavan said the planting had been done at an experimental level following all mandatory biosafety measures applicable to field trials involving GM crops.

The Rubber board officials said that there was no risk of genes flowing from the GM rubber into any other native species, which a concern often raised by environmental groups.