Tuesday, March 9, 2010


In a front page splash a local news paper in Bangalore informs its readers that Indian scientists have achieved a break through in delaying the ripening of Tomato and allow it to stay "fresh" for 45 days. Consumers know that tomato is a highly perishable vegetable crop that has very limited life and hence must be consumed within a couple of days after purchase. The very basis of the tomato processing industry is this inevitable fact and products like puree, paste, canned chunks etc were developed to make tomato available through out the year. The seasonality and perishability of tomato cause enormous economic hardship to growers who have had to forgo harvesting some time because of extremely low prices in the market at the peak of the season which would not be able to cover even the labor cost incurred for harvesting. There fore the news about the new strain of tomato must have been soothing to their ears.

When the reader strains to know further about the details of this so called "break through" from the news coverage in the above paper, it turns out to be an obituary for one of the scientists who was involved in the early stages of research on this project. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth to invoke the memory of a scientist who died of cancer 8 years ago and whoever wrote this piece must have done not to eulogize the departed soul but with some ulterior motives. The development of techniques to delay ripening of fruits in general has been an area of interest in many countries, especially for high cost fruits of commercial value and many fruit orchards in the west use chemicals for achieving the same goal.

Advances made in molecular biology have enabled man to peep into the genomic profiles of many plants, animals and even human beings in great details and to day's GM foods are the out come of successes achieved in the field. Whether humans have crossed the limit in using genetic information for creating "Frankenstein" in the form of new crop and animal variants
with unpredictable consequences, only time can say. Present raging controversy about Bt Brinjal is an apt example as to how a new variant created through genetic engineering has become so divisive splitting the country into two polarized camps. Interestingly the claimants for credit in developing this variant are far and few since no one wants to be in the lime light for wrong reasons.

In the case of the "rocky" tomato or "dead" tomato, as some readers of the above paper referred to this new variety, it is claimed to have been developed by JNU scientists, the work was going on for the last one decade and it has not yet reached a stage for referring to the GEAC of GOI for mandatory approval, let alone commercialization. It is puzzling why all of a sudden some one has to stake claim now for credits on behalf of a scientist who worked with the project team 8 years ago and who died in 2002. By raising this question it is not the intention of this Blogger to belittle the work of the late scientist cited by the paper who was well known to him but to highlight the mad pursuit of rewards and recognition that is prevalent to day amongst the scientific community whether really deserving or not.

After the "projectization" concept was introduced in public funded research programs, officially constituted teams consisting of scientists, assistants and helpers are supposed to carry out R & D projects with well defined goals and time frame. Unlike universities where research fellows and professors shoulder the R & D responsibility and share the credits, such system cannot work effectively due to logistical and practical reasons. If maximum cooperation and optimum inputs are to be marshaled, many scientists from different disciplines will have to be involved and results arising out of such endeavor will be to the credit of the institution where the work has been carried out successfully. It is the internal rewarding system like monetary compensation or promotion that should offer adequate appreciation of the work by those contributing to the success. Real scientists can never flourish by seeking publicity through "articulated" publication of their accomplishments with bloated claims, splashing their photographs in "friendly" print media circles, delivering key note addresses in irrelevant forums or collecting questionable prizes and awards through unfair means! Here are prayers for the departed soul on whose name the present controversy is being raked up.


1 comment:

Manu said...

Dear Sir,I sent a mail to you from the mail ID of my friend. I shall be grateful if you could give me some inputs on below matter.

I read THE "ROCK" TOMATO-ANOTHER GM "CONTROVERSY" in the making in your blog dated March 9,2010.

I have been closely watching this group since last 10-15 years making tall claims like- protein rich potato, oxalate free spinach and so on. The latest on late ripening tomato is quite interesting but nobody knows the exact work of deceased person!

Only God can save country from such rascals. Sir I can bring them to limelight provided you give me name of US scientist whose work they have used. I think it is Dr R.Fischer from California