Gene-Edited Mustard: Less Pungent, More Useful

Gene-Edited Mustard: Less Pungent, More Useful
Posted on 22-08-2023

Revolutionizing Mustard Farming: Gene-Edited Variety Offers Less Pungency, Greater Utility

Indian researchers have successfully developed a groundbreaking variety of low-pungency mustard through gene editing techniques, enhancing its resistance to pests and diseases. This innovative achievement addresses challenges associated with conventionally cultivated oilseeds, particularly India's prominent domestically-grown oilseed, rapeseed-mustard, which constitutes a substantial portion of the country's vegetable oil and meal production. This mustard breakthrough holds promise for mitigating issues associated with traditional rapeseed-mustard.

Traditional rapeseed-mustard poses challenges due to its high levels of glucosinolates, compounds that contribute to the pungency of its oil and meal. These high glucosinolate levels limit consumer acceptance, especially among those who prefer milder cooking options. Additionally, the residual cake left after oil extraction from the seeds presents problems in livestock and poultry feed due to indigestibility and potential health issues.

Efforts spanning two decades have focused on breeding rapeseed-mustard with Canola-quality traits to overcome these problems. The research, conducted by scientists from Delhi University's Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, aimed to produce mustard lines that match Canola-quality rapeseed's pungency standards. Canola-quality mustard demonstrates reduced glucosinolate levels, making it more suitable for both cooking and animal feed.

A significant challenge in scaling up the cultivation of Canola-quality mustard stems from its vulnerability to pests and diseases. Lowering glucosinolate levels, while beneficial for oil and meal quality, can weaken the plant's overall defense mechanisms. To counteract these challenges, researchers adopted a gene editing approach using CRISPR/Cas9 technology. They edited 10 out of the 12 GTR genes in a high-yielding Indian mustard variety called 'Varuna,' rendering the encoded glucosinolate transport proteins non-functional.

The resulting gene-edited mustard variety exhibited balanced glucosinolate levels—below the Canola-quality threshold in seeds, while maintaining higher concentrations in leaves and pod walls. This variation provided high resistance against pests and diseases compared to the wild-type mustard. Importantly, the gene-edited mustard lines are non-genetically modified (GM) and free from transgenes, thereby sidestepping some regulatory challenges faced by GM crops.

The significance of this breakthrough lies in its potential to reduce India's dependence on imported edible oils, which account for a substantial portion of the country's consumption. This innovation also has the capacity to enhance crop yields, bolster resistance to pests and diseases, and elevate product quality. By addressing key challenges associated with traditional rapeseed-mustard, this gene-edited mustard marks a remarkable advancement in Indian agriculture.

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