Genetic Modifications in Sugarcane – A Prospective Approach

Despite this crop’s major contribution to the sugar industry, there is also some other important use of this crop which includes molasses, fodder for animals, burning material, source of biofuel. Being an important cash crop, it is being grown in an impressively increasing percentage in Pakistan. Genetic Engineering technology is being applied for enhancing certain important traits of this crop in countries like USA, Argentine, Brazil, India, Egypt etc. This gene modification research on sugarcane has not been started in Pakistan but in the future, it may be applied to improve some important characters of this crop. Approach for this work is mainly to enhance characters like sucrose yield, prevention of sucrose breakdown into reducing sugars, fungal and insect resistance.
Higher Sucrose Content:
The major role played by sugarcane in Pakistan’s economy is by providing sucrose to the sugar industries for making table sugar which is being used by all of us today. Genetic engineering could play an important part here if the genes controlling sucrose content can be manipulated by enhancing or suppressing those genes, the content of sucrose can be increased and with this increase in sucrose content ethanol production by fermentation of sucrose also increases which is the best source of biofuel. With increased biofuel production, the money spent on petroleum could be saved.

Sucrose Detainment:
Another major hurdle in the low returns of sugarcane is the loss of sucrose if stored for longer periods due to the breakdown of sucrose into glucose and fructose by an enzyme. If the genes of this enzyme are knocked off or suppressed, sugarcane can be stored for the longer time and easily reach the far away industries.
Insect and Disease Resistance:
Efforts are being made to control insect pests of sugarcane which are normally the borers and fungus. Against borers, if BT-toxin gene is inserted in sugarcane it would prevent the borer problem and same is for fungal resistance, if the anti-fungal genes could be identified and isolated and inserted in sugarcane genome they could be of much importance. The most common destructive fungal diseases of sugarcane in Pakistan are red rot and whip smut.
All the above-mentioned approaches have not yet been implemented in Pakistan but in the future with the advancement of genetic engineering and with efforts of researchers it is possible that we might see some changes in this crop’s genome.
These all approaches do seem to be beneficial but always keep it in mind that every rope has two ends if these approaches seem to be beneficial they might also be capable of many threats to the environment and consequently to the whole ecosystem and such threats could not be overlooked.
Jazib Ali, Saad Ullah, Umer Nadeem, Ali Raza, Ahtasham-ul-Hassan.

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