Mahyco strongly believes that R&D is the key to producing superior products and maintaining market leadership. This belief has resulted in several milestones in the company’s history. Mahyco was the first seed company worldwide to successfully commercialize F1 hybrid cotton based on GMS/CMS system. It was also the first private enterprise in India to produce and market hybrids in sorghum, pearl millet, wheat and sunflower.
Mahyco has a broad germplasm base to ensure success in its breeding programs. Mahyco also undertakes its research at numerous centres all over the country. In addition, its multi-location crop performance testing programme operates from 18 different centres across the country.
Research in Plant Biotechnology
Mahyco has been playing a leadership role in delivering biotechnology crops to the Indian farmer.
Plant biotechnology applications in the field have delivered significant economic benefits to the farmer and can play an important role in improving human health. Better crop pest and disease tolerance, fewer applications of pesticides, better nutritive value and higher yield are some of the benefits that current and future biotechnology crops can deliver.
At Mahyco, plant biotechnology is viewed as a tool to be used in a selective manner, as an integral part of plant breeding programs. Traits of value that are difficult to breed for, or are absent in germplasm available to breeders, are the focus of biotechnology research at Mahyco. These traits, when made available, enable our breeders to incorporate them in a precise manner, eliminating unwanted traits that are retained in traditional breeding methods.
In 1998, Mahyco established a research facility, the Mahyco Research Centre, near Jalna, Maharashtra, to conduct cutting-edge biotechnology research in a number of areas relevant to crop improvement and productivity; while still remaining close to its roots in rural agriculture and seeds research.
Major research areas include crop genomics, crop transformation, plant-virus interactions, microbiology, abiotic stress tolerance, molecular and conventional entomology, diagnostics (www.designdiagnostics.com ), double haploids, mutagenesis and protein science.
Biotech Product Development
Nitrogen Use Efficiency
Nitrogen fertilizers play a vital role in boosting agricultural productivity. Reduced availability of Nitrogen (N) fertilizers in fields has a direct impact on farm level yield. However, a large proportion of fertilizer N applied in the field gets lost to the environment due to leaching in soil water and conversion to gaseous forms by microbial activities. The lost nitrogen is a major drain on farmer’s input costs and also negatively impacts the environment. At Mahyco, we are developing technology to make plants more efficient in utilizing applied nitrogen fertilizers. The technology has the potential to reduce the amount of fertilizer farmers have to apply to obtain normal levels of farm yield or to increase yields per hectare. It delivers savings to the farmer while enabling better environmental practices and reduced fertilizer import costs. We are testing rice and cotton developed using this technology.
Mahyco’s research focuses on developing insect resistance as a value added trait in crops such as rice, brinjal and okra. The products contain one or more genes – cry genes from Bacillus thuringiensis – that have proven efficacy in the management of specific target insect pests. India’s first insect-resistant transgenic product Bollgard® cotton was commercialized in 2002, followed by a two gene product Bollgard II™ in 2006. Mahyco has developed products such as Bt rice, Bt brinjal and Bt okra which show excellent control of specific target insect pests in regulatory trials. Bt brinjal with cry1Ac gene has passed through all regulatory testing stages and is awaiting approval for commercialization. Mahyco’s aim is to equip products with good insect control that will eventually boost the profitability of the farmers while minimizing pesticide use and environmental contamination.
Abiotic Stress Tolerance
Rapid population and economic growth in India in the last 50 years have placed significant pressure on the country’s fragile environment and water resources. India’s population is expected to reach 1.4 billion by 2024. In order to feed the ever increasing population, efforts are being made to increase water use efficiency and salinity stress tolerance in crops through conventional plant breeding and biotechnological approaches.
Some noteworthy statistics:
- In India, about 7 million hectares of cultivated land is affected by salinity.
- Indian agriculture faces severe water scarcity.
- 70% of yield potential is estimated to be lost to unfavorable physiochemical environments, even in developed agricultural ventures.
Abiotic stresses are a major deterrent to yield and cause economic losses running to billions of dollars annually. Mahyco is testing a number of technologies for mitigating the effects of abiotic stresses. Rice and cotton developed using this technology are being tested as per the necessary regulatory approvals.
Weeds – usually more prevalent under rainfed cultivation – significantly reduce crop yield by competing with crop plants for space, nutrients, light and moisture. Labour demand for manual weeding is high and costly while weed control using herbicides is cost effective and simple. Therefore, herbicide tolerant crops deliver a combination of convenience and flexibility that lead to improved crop performance. Herbicide tolerant plants are able to withstand specific herbicide applications, enabling farmers to remove weeds easily and increase crop productivity. Farmers have recognized the benefits of this technology in a number of countries and herbicide resistant technology is identified as the most rapidly adopted technology in the history of agriculture. Mahyco has been testing cotton developed using this technology. Once commercially released, cotton farmers can effectively control weeds during the crop growing season and achieve improved yield and higher profitability while better protecting the environment.