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Genetically Engineered (GE) Insects


Why is it in the news?

  • In India, there is a significant push towards increasing the contribution of the Bioeconomy to the GDP from 6% to 5% by the year 2030, as outlined in the ‘Bioeconomy Report 2022’ by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
  • However, the biotechnology sector in the country faces challenges, including stagnant funding levels, with only a minimal 0.0001% allocation of the GDP. Despite a temporary increase in funding during the Covid-19 pandemic, it has not returned to pre-pandemic standards.
  • Additionally, the DBT issued ‘Guidelines for Genetically Engineered (GE) Insects’ in April 2023, aiming to provide procedural guidance for those interested in creating GE insects. Nevertheless, these guidelines are not without their issues and concerns.

 

Bioeconomy

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Bioeconomics, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), involves the production, use, and conservation of biological resources, including knowledge, science, technology, and innovation.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Its purpose is to provide information, products, processes, and services across economic sectors, with a focus on sustainability.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 The term “bioeconomy” gained prominence in the early 21st century.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 It was adopted by the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to promote biotechnology’s role in developing new products and markets.

 

Examples

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Food Systems: Occupy the largest niche in the bioeconomy, including sustainable agriculture; sustainable fishing; forestry and aquaculture; and food and feed manufacturing.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Bio-Based Products: Includes bioplastics; and biodegradable clothing.

 

Key Highlights of Bioeconomy Report 2022

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 India’s bioeconomy is growing, projected to reach USD 150 billion by 2025 and USD 300 billion by 2030.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 14.1% growth in 2021, reaching USD 80 billion.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Daily contribution of USD 219 million.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 1,128 biotech startups established in 2021.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Over USD 1 billion invested in R&D.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Administered 4 million Covid-19 vaccine doses daily during the pandemic.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 Over a decade, biotech startups grew from 50 to over 5,300.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 BIRAC established 74 bio-incubation centres across 21 states/UTs.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽 India has the second-highest number of USFDA-approved manufacturing plants globally.

Genetically Engineered (GE) Insects

  • Organisms with altered genetic material for specific traits.
  • Applications include vector management, crop pest control, health, environmental benefits, protein production, and improving beneficial insects.

 

Issues with GE Insects Guidelines

 

  • Lack of Specificity in Guidelines: Guidelines lack specificity on approved purposes in India. Emphasis on health, agriculture, and the environment doesn’t align with the broader commitment to the bioeconomy.
  • Uncertainty for Researchers: Guidelines are limited to research and don’t address confined trials or deployment. Lack of clarity on government approval for deployment raises concerns about community exposure without individual choice.
  • Ambiguity in ‘Beneficial’ Definition: Ambiguity surrounds the definition of ‘beneficial’ in the context of GE insects. Hinders funders and scientists from investing in research.

Challenges Related to GE Insects

 

  • Ecological Impact: Concerns about the potential ecological impact of releasing genetically modified insects into the environment. Risk of disrupting ecosystems by affecting non-target species or altering population balances.
  • Unintended Consequences: Genetic engineering is complex, leading to the possibility of unintended consequences. Changes in targeted genes could have unexpected effects on insect behaviour, lifespan, or interactions with other organisms.
  • Gene Spread Beyond Intended Population: Risk of modified genes spreading beyond the intended population. If modified insects breed with wild populations, engineered genes may enter the wild gene pool, causing unintended consequences.
  • Ethical Concerns: Moral concerns about altering the genetics of living organisms. Particularly relevant when it involves the release of modified organisms into the environment.
  • Regulatory Challenges: Developing regulatory frameworks for genetically engineered insects is challenging. Determining appropriate levels of testing, monitoring, and oversight are crucial for safety and effectiveness.
  • Long-Term Stability: Ensuring the stability of engineered traits over generations is crucial. Genetic modifications must remain effective and not degrade or become subject to natural selection pressures that compromise their intended purpose.
  • Costs and Scalability: Developing and implementing genetically engineered insect technologies can be expensive. Ensuring cost-effectiveness and scalability for large-scale applications, like disease vector control, presents ongoing challenges.
  • Top of Form

 

Way Forward

  • Clear policies are crucial for bioeconomy growth.
  • Multidisciplinary approach needed to address GE Insects challenges.
  • Involvement of scientists, policymakers, ethicists, and the public is essential.
  • Ongoing research and open dialogue necessary to navigate responsibly.

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