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  • Sep 23 / 2016
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My Story

Genetic Determinism: Genetic engineering to Desi Cow

2nd part

Genetic Determinism: Genetic engineering to Desi Cow
Why people think genetics is more important than environment where it expresses? #MyStory

‘Why i am like my dad’ by N. Luchnik published by Mir Publishers was the first book on ‘genetics’ which created lot of interest in me on the subject during school days and led to pursue biological science stream. The book starts with an interesting question wondering ‘what make me look like dad’ and explains genes and genetics and how environment plays an imp role.

After joining agriculture college we are all told Genetics and Plant Breeding’ is the key for improving agriculture and food security. The whole green revolution is driven by that….as a passion i also wanted to be a geneticist or a plant breeder and pursued to get a fellowship and secured ICAR JRF in Plant Breeding in 1990. But i didnt pursue it and moved to extension as working with farmers made more sense than plants and genes.

But reading loads of works on genetics vs environment, nature vs nurture which started as part of ‘psychology’ and reading the whole debates about castism and racism as part ‘sociology’ both in preparation for civil services exam…with this background, coming to the point

Why people think genetics is more important than environment in which it expresses? while everyone of us atleast paper agree that all humans are born equal why do we think some are more equal than others (not because of their economic status but because of the family (caste/religion) in which they are born in?

The central belief that every character is determined by genes (read also as birth) is part of both modern science and all religions. the indian caste system or the western racism are fall outs of it. The human genome project was essentially to build a so called ‘scientific support’ for such thinking… (always there would be other side of the story and there would be some benefits of this as well for human kind..but i am only talking here about the central dogma which is driving science for some). in fact this is also disproved long back. current understanding is that ‘Genetics sets the limits’ within which ‘enviroment’ plays an important role in the extent of expression of the character.

This theory largely ignores that it is environment and opportunities which are provided to people which determines their performance and not just the genes.

it is exactly same theory which is in operation in agriculture. while much of the success of ‘Green revolution’ is attributed to the ‘high yielding varieties’ while much of the success (leaving aside the fall outs) is also due to the environment created by supplying more nutrients, more water through dams and canals, support prices and procurement through FCI, credit access through nationalisation of banks etc. they completely failed when the govt tried to replicate the same ‘magic’ in rainfed areas without creating the supportive ‘environment’… the fall out of creating the articial environment through chemicals, water through dams is now seen…in punjab and other green revolution areas too…modern science of agroecology evolved from these fallouts and is evolving into a newer discipline driven by science and experienced farmers.

Genetic engineering is also driven by the same old ‘genetic determinism’ philosophy. it believes that all characters in organisms are determined by genes, and we can identify the genes for the characters we need, isolate, multiply or copy paste them in any organism and achieve the same expression. so by identifying the genes which produces ‘endotoxins’ in bacillus thuriengenesis, we can extract them and engineer them into cotton plant so that cotton can also can produce the same toxin and the gene performs exactly as it performs in the bacteria. this completely ignores the fact that the expression of this gene is aldo dependent on the internal environment of the cell/plant and external environment…the fall out of this we have seen with bt cotton and several others. same is the thinking behind GM mustard (which claims you can increase yield by creating a hybrid) and golden rice (which claims you can have vitamin a produced by inserting a gene into rice plants)..most of the biosafety problems we are observing are because of this narrow understanding and reductionistic thinking.

Again it is the same ‘genetic determinism’ behind both ‘artificial insemination’ program by modern science which feels bringing semen from videsi cows/buffaloes will improve the yields, or the ‘desi cow’ or ‘desi bull’ syndrome which feels the certain breeds are superior over others irrespective of situations or the environment. animals evolve and adopt to the local growing conditions. so for hot tropical conditions indian breeds adopted well (infact they survied so they are existing…otherwise they might have become extinct). and infact this is not just because they adapted well…but because farmers made careful selections over centuries to suit various needs. it was these people who used them for ploughing, transport, milk production, animal races or for consumption as food. animals were part of their daily life. they were reponsible of constant evolution of several of these breeds and this has to continue in real time conditions not…artifically storing their semen and eggs in cold storages of the gene banks or worshipping them by keeping them in goshalas.

Same is the story about ‘desi’ seeds. every plant evolved in some of the world and has spread to other areas. there are 12 mega biodiversity centres in the world and India is one of them. With just 2.4% of the world’s land area , India accounts for over 45,000 recorded species of plants and 91,000 recorded species of animals even while supporting almost 18% of human population as well as a large livestock population. In the name of modernisation much of the diversity is lost and today we have the diversity resting in cold rooms and not in the farmers’ fields. while much of the problems about this approach and attitude are well known and can be discussed separately as well…interestingly the people who gaga about ‘desi seeds’ are also driven by the same genetic determinism….. seeds are not constant piece of material but a living being which constantly evolves. so regular selections by farmers is what led to such a big diversity we have. what suits to the local ecological and growing conditions is important..its wrong to belive that old seeds are better over newer ones..it essentially depends on the selection process…hybridisation and selection are natural processes with more scientific rigour. dr. richaria has proven this and there are several farmers also who have proven this.

The living beings are constantly evolving by mating and intermating and subjected to natural selection (by nature) and end user (humans for their use)…and this should continue…genetic purity (plants, animals and even in humans) is the approach which is also driven by the same genetic determinism.

This is what is my understanding is and what drivers me. in our daily work we face several questions about several of these… it is the same#GeneticDeterminism thinking which makes kaph panchayats to go against intercaste marraiges, or some people go gaga about desi cow or desi seed like modern science goes gaga about genetic engineering and artificial insemination. its the same thinking behind the Hitlers ideas about eugenics!