Scientists develop ‘protato’

Himalayan News Service

New Delhi, January 18:

A genetically engineered, protein-enriched potato is being readied for commercial field-testing in India, scientists here said. Developed by Asis Datta at the National Centre for Plant Genome Research in Jawaharlal Nehru University, the ‘protato’ — ‘pro’ from protein and ‘tato’ from potato — has up to 35 per cent more protein than a normal potato due to a gene transfer from the amaranth plant.

Potato, a starch-rich tuber, contains barely one per cent protein while the amaranth plant has nutrition-rich leaves and seeds used for culinary purposes. Scientists have isolated the gene in the amaranth responsible for protein synthesis and have introduced it into potato, thus increasing the tuber’s protein content. Scientist and National Commission of Farmers member RB Singh said on the sidelines of a two-day workshop on biotechnology, “It is a marvellous discovery working on the fact that protein is consumed on a large scale in India.”

The workshop being held yesterday and today at the Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University here will have sessions by Indian scientists on India’s new biotech policy, the development and trial of new vaccines and traditional medicine. According to Singh, since protato has protein similar to amaranth, there are likely to be no negative effects. He said the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation had cleared the product.

“What remains to be seen are matters regarding pricing and farmers’ premiums that have to be taken care of,” Singh said, claiming protato would make a world of difference in nutrition since more than 40 per cent of the world’s malnutrition was caused by protein deficiency.

Though India is the world’s largest potato producer, it does not export any since domestic consumption itself is high.