Head, Agricultural Biotechnology Division
Dr Zahid Mukhtar
Agriculture is the backbone of the economy of Pakistan. The sector employees 50% of the labour, contributes 25% to GDP and sustain major industries of the country. Pakistan has one of the fastest population growth rates and food security is the major issue for the nation. The total population of the country is around 170 million which is expected to rise to 210 million by 2022. The success of the Green Revolution of the earlier decades will now have to be repeated through a “Gene Revolution”.
The Division has gathered research facilities, manpower with sufficient levels of expertise and a critical mass essential to realize goals mentioned above. The total number reaches around 180. Research endeavors in Agricultural Biotechnology Division has reached a stage that their exploitation at commercial level is becoming a reality. The program is focused on five major crops including cotton wheat, rice, sugarcane and potato. Several steps required to take technology to end-users have been taken that include patenting of technology, approval for laboratory and field testing of genetically-modified crops by Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) and National Biosafety Committee (NBC), Ministry of Environment, Government of Pakistan.
Activities in the division are aimed at use of modern molecular methods
- To understand problems that limit crop productivity, isolate relevant gene(s) that can confer novel agronomic traits, transform those genes in crop plants and characterize engineered plants under glasshouse and field conditions.
- Reduce cost of production by developing plants that requires less input (such as pesticides) and are efficient in use of water and fertilizers.
- Development and utilization of DNA markers for marker-assisted selection of desirable plants. The program is ultimately aimed at characterization and enhancement of germplasm resources in the country which is vital for maintaining competitive edge of the country in agriculture sector and safeguard National interest in WTO regime.
- Development and utilization of microbial technologies for plant growth enhancement and protection against biotic and abiotic stresses.
- Establishment and utilization of Genomics, Proteomics and Metabolomics tools for understanding of key pathways important for crop productivity.
- To serves as a receiving unit for technologies developed elsewhere using molecular tools for the benefit of the country.
- The Division has incorporated both formal (M. Phil/Ph.D) and informal training activities for the development of trained manpower in Agricultural Biotechnology and has emerged as the largest training facility in the country. The activity also provide young talented workforce for speedy accomplishment of research endeavors.
Transgenics in pipe line:
The division has submitted around 40 cases of laboratory manipulation, field trials and commercial release of GM crops to National Biosafety Commission (NBC). Most of these cases deal with introduction of single gene traits for control of insect pests, viruses, resistance against abiotic stresses such as salt, drought and heat tolerance. We call them as “First Generation GM crops” One non-GM and two GM cotton varieties have been approved. In the “second generation GM crops” technologies that depend upon expression of 2-3 genes are being developed. However, we soon have to move to the “third generation GM crops” where more than three genes are expressed for “stacked characters” and the expression of the transgene may be limited to tissues where it is required for example roots, phloem, seeds etc. The development of the second and third generation technologies require scientific expertise and technologies with input of high tech research.