Indian scientists have unveiled a genetically modified "protato" that incorporates the AmA1 gene from the amaranth plant, producing a third more protein than a non-GM potato. This latest development by researchers at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi follows the famous "golden rice" grown with extra iron and vitamin A in Switzerland in 1999.
The vegetable "shows a significant increase in all essential amino acids, including lysine, tryptophan, tyrosine and sulphur-containing amino acids such as cysteine and methionine," said Ashok Chaudhary, a research assistant at the Tata Energy Research Institute in New Delhi.
Nutrition expert Patrick Holford, founder of the Institute of Optimum Nutrition in London, said that although he had reservations about genetic modification, the nutritional implications could be good. "From a nutritional perspective, we are increasingly aware of the effects of a fast-releasing carbohydrate such as potato on blood sugar and insulin release. Consuming protein with this type of carbohydrate would have health benefits."
The "protato" now faces rigorous trials and testing to prove the extra protein is digestible. The tests could take up to eight years. If approved for consumption, it could be used as a mid-day meal for Indian schoolchildren.
Researchers claim the potato was developed in such a way as to prevent the backlash faced by other GM products throughout the world. "The potato does not contain a pesticide gene. It's a gene that improves nutrition and it's from another plant that is already eaten," Govindarajan Padmanaban, a biochemist at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore told New Scientist. "Moreover, it's not a known allergen," he added.