GHANA – The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has received a new application from researchers at the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR) and the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) in Ghana asking for permission to add a second gene to the cry1Ab that has already been inserted into the Bt cowpea.

According to them, the new cry2Ab gene will strengthen and increase the Bt cowpea’s resistance to the Maruca pest and any potential future mutations.

The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), the NBA, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA), and other stakeholders were present during the submission, along with SARI experts.

SARI has spent more than ten years working to genetically alter the popular cowpea variety songotra to withstand the pod-boring bug Maruca vitrata.

The insect is responsible for the destruction of over fifty percent of cowpea on farmers’ fields resulting in low profits.

Farmers typically use costly insecticides that are harmful to their health because they lack protective clothing and overlook safety precautions in order to protect their crops from the pod borer.

The cry1Ab, which was engineered into a cowpea variety to make it develop resistance to the pod borer insect, is obtained from a soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

This came after the researchers submitted an application to the NBA to start work on crop modification. The biosafety authority authorized the release of the Bt cowpea into the environment on June 30, 2022.

The National Varietal Release and Registration Committee (NVRRC), however, must first approve the scientists’ data in order to permit commercialization.

Insects do evolve into new biotypes and dismantle any previously developed resistance, according to SARI Director Dr. Francis Kusi.

“So, with this approach, we are just trying to build up the level of genes in there so that if a particular insect can overcome one, the other one will be able to knock it out.

“This is the approach, and that is why we are now asking for the second gene to add to make it more robust, and then the resistance can stay longer for the farmers,” he said.

He continued by saying that to avoid any future disadvantages, scientists must plan ahead and take proactive measures.

The application was accepted by Mr. Eric Okoree, CEO of the NBA on behalf of the authority, who also announced that they would do all risk analyses and provide approval if all conditions were satisfied.

According to the law, the NBA has 180 days from the time it receives an application to make a decision. Okoree declared that they wouldn’t stray from the schedule.

Such a study, according to Professor Walter Alhassan, a former Director General of the CSIR and a stewardship specialist, stimulates more scientific research to solve any hitches that may arise in the future.

He also emphasized the significance of including the cry2Ab gene.

“This application is properly in place. I think we are moving in stages and the biggest hurdle to me has been cleared with regards to the pod borer-resistant cowpea which has been approved for environmental and release.

“Now we have to improve on it because the insects can still become resistant to the Bt gene that has been put in it. It is just nature’s way of making sure the species survive. They will mutate and then continue life, and so when they mutate to this gene (cry1Ab), another gene (cry2Ab) comes in to knock them out,” he said.

In addition, he said that by observing nature, it should not be a surprise that a second gene will be needed because it may be lost over time.

The application, according to the OFAB Country Coordinator, shows that scientists are on the ground and informed about their work, which will help to ensure that nothing goes wrong.

He asserted that if scientists merely head for the lab when farmers have difficulties, more issues would be generated.

He added that they should take the necessary action now to prevent any potential calamities from happening in the future.

The Bt cowpea is expected to reach farmers at the latest by next year after all requirements and data have been submitted to the NVRRC, according to the scientists.

For all the latest food safety news from Africa and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel.