Biotech #Foodheroes: Arjula R Reddy

Arjula R Reddy

Though he grew up on a traditional family farm in rural India, Arjula Reddy has taken a very modern approach to agriculture.

As one of India’s pioneers in agricultural biotechnology, Reddy has used research, education, public outreach, and policy to help his countrymen access the advanced tools of molecular biology that he first encountered while studying at John Hopkins University in the mid-1970s.

“Biotechnology is a collection of powerful technologies that can be used to improve farmers’ income, reduce inorganic inputs and offer high quality genetically improved seed,” Reddy says.

He quickly realized, however, that the regulatory process for genetically modified (GM) crops was “a major hiccup” in their distribution. So, Reddy joined various regulatory committees to create a science-based process for getting these powerful technologies into the hands of India’s farmers.

Reddy went on to set up one of India’s first labs for plant biotechnology and was instrumental in shepherding insect-resistant Bt brinjal (eggplant) through India’s regulatory system. Though a GM moratorium halted Bt brinjal before it was commercialized in India, Reddy remained convinced the crop “would have enhanced farmer profitability and helped reduce pesticide load” for farmers already struggling with many other challenges. His assessment has proven true in neighboring Bangladesh, which adopted Bt brinjal as its first GM food crop.

“Creating seed with improved traits is the biggest benefit, particularly when target genes are not available in any plant. Biotechnology allows them to be introduced and improve the trait in an unprecedented manner. The Indian story of changing from a cotton importing to a cotton exporting country is a good example of the benefits.”

Though India has been slow to approve the GM crops developed by its scientists, Reddy has lost none of his early enthusiasm for the technology, especially as it advances.

“Genome editing will be a spectacular game-changer in agriculture in general and crop improvement in particular,” he predicts, primarily by reducing the time it takes to breed new varieties.