Choking the gene pool

GENETICS presents a strange dilemma. Manipulations in this field have greatly increased the yields of crops, animals and trees. Witness the green and white revolutions and the large commercial timber and fruit plantations. Ironically, this cloning threatens the global gene pool itself. It is important to conserve the global gene pool so that there are an adequate number of varieties to fall back on, both for future food production as well as regenerating degraded areas.

To this end, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) has set up various institutes, notably three national bureaux for collecting, preserving, reproducing and distributing plant, animal and fish genetic resources.

The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources has established the Indian National Gene Bank to conserve the national heritage of plant germplasm. The bureau, with its 12 regional stations and base centres, has access to the country's myriad ecological niches.

The preservation of animal genes is neither easy nor cheap but crucial, given the failure of several crossbreeding attempts. The National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources is charged with the responsibility of collecting and preserving India's native genetic heritage. It has three stations, including its Karnal headquarters.

Fish culture and river pollution also depletes the natural genetic stock, but no comprehensive studies have been done on the subject so far. The National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources at Allahabad has therefore not only to preserve fish genetic stock, but also undertake numerous studies about our fish wealth.