Eggplant has always had a dodgy reputation, and some Cornell researchers working with India's Sathguru Management Consultants have just made the plump purple fruit even weirder. They've rigged the eggplant genome to express a "natural insecticide" that will drive away pesky fruit and shoot borers, bugs which routinely ravage crops throughout India, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines. The bug-killing eggplants are called Bt eggplants because their new insecticide-producing powers come from the spliced-in genes of the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt eggplants will likely hit your tastebuds in 2009, and are the first GMO to come to Southeast Asia. Are they safe? Cornell reports:
All the safety tests for the Bt eggplant have been conducted in India, starting in greenhouses and now moving to large-scale field trials. The eggplant has been found to be nontoxic to fish, chickens, rabbits, goats, rats and cattle as well as nonallergenic. Ongoing tests will examine such questions as whether the plant will continue to resist [fruit and shoot borers] in the field and for how long; whether the Bt eggplant cross pollinates with other eggplants in the field and how far the Bt plants should be from other eggplant fields; whether nontarget insect populations are affected in the long term; and how yields compare with those of other eggplant varieties.
I'm not an anti-GMO kind of person, and I know that there already exist fruits and vegetables that have naturally evolved their own insecticides in the wild. But I gotta say that the GMO industry really needs to figure out a better way to explain what it's doing because nobody is going to want to eat eggplant curry if they think it's full of bug-killing bacteria. Photo by Miss Karen.
Cornell develops pest-resistant eggplant