Though Westerners tend to view mustard as a condiment, researcher Deepak Pental is focused on its value as a cooking oil in his homeland of India.
A severe shortage of cooking oils prompted Pental to begin researching mustard oil when he returned to India in the 1980s as a newly minted Ph.D. In the decades since, he’s pioneered methods that combine classical breeding with the new tools of genetic manipulation — molecular markers and genetic transformation — to significantly increase yields.
That’s important for India, which imports around Rs 70,000 crore ($USD10 billion) worth of edible oils every year to meet its consumption requirements, Pental says. “The productivity of mustard has been stagnating for the last 10 years leading to low incomes for small farmers. Research and development work carried out by our lab can significantly improve edible oil production in India.”
Though India has not yet approved the commercial cultivation of his disease-resistant mustard plants, Pental remains committed to biotechnology, which he sees as critical to achieving food and nutritional security and ensuring “a reasonable living” for smallholder farmers in developing nations.
In fact, he’d like to see the same level of collaboration, research, investment, and public outreach that characterized the “green revolution” implemented again to achieve a “gene revolution.”
“Crops face threats not only from the pests but also from environmental stresses,” he says. “The farmers in the tropics and sub-tropics require new technologies for handling pests and pathogens even more than the temperate developed parts of the globe. If the technology reaches the farmers, they will be able to get better yields.”