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Secrets of Bt Cotton in Gujarat: Why Famers Are Crazy For This Illegal Variety

Saurashtra region of Gujarat has seen a spurt in the cultivation of illegal cotton recently.

Shipra Singh
Cotton crop
Cotton crop

With the news that about 50% of the cotton plantation in Maharashtra is illegal, there is another news that Gujarat farmers, particularly of Saurashtra area, are growing illegal Bt cotton rampantly.  

The illegally grown cotton varieties are known by various names like 4Bt, Bt4, and 4G. The newest cotton on the block that has caught the fancy of farmers is actually a cross between locally grown cotton of Saurashtra and cotton grown in US and Australia.  

Features of this new cotton 

  • It has longer fiber length 

  • It is resistant to pink bollworm

  • It is brighter white than other varieties

These three features have drawn farmers towards this cotton like honey bees to hive. And they are not concerned by the fact that the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) has still not cleared the seeds of Bt cotton.  

However, looking at the astounding success of Bt cotton, farmers are going crazy over this cotton that promises exceptionally good yield and cotton fiber quality.  

Cotton flowers
Cotton flowers

What exactly is Bt Cotton? 

The “Bt” in Bt cotton stands for “Bacillus thuringiensis. ”This is a bacterium that contains a toxin gene that targets pests. Scientists have extracted this Bt toxin gene from the bacterium and inserted into the cotton. The gene expresses itself by giving cotton resistant to major pests like pink bollworm 

So, the use of insecticides is greatly decreased or almost eliminated thanks to this Bt gene in cotton.  

How the Bt gene works in cotton  

  • Bt toxin gene secretes a crystalline protein that is a toxic protein to insects 

  • This toxin gene does not harm the plant because it exists in an inactive stage inside cotton

  • It becomes active only when the insect starts feeding the leaves and ingests the toxin. 

  • The inactive toxic gene becomes active due to the alkaline pH of the insect gut, which dissolves the protein crystal

  • The active toxin binds to the epithelial cells of the insect’s gut and forms pores in the gut

  • This results in swelling of the gut

  • Ultimately, the insect dies. 

CRY genes 

Scientists have extracted specific genes from Bacillus thuringiensis. These genes are named as CRY genes. The genes CRYIAc and CRYIIAb kill pink bollworm of cotton, while the gene CRYIAb kills corn borer.  

With the rapid spread of illegal Bt cotton seeds across the country, there is an urgent need by the government to form certain rules and regulations that are in the best interests of the farmers and the seed industry.  

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