As soon as we hear the word, mutant, the first thing that comes to most of our minds is the X- men universe, as well as the characters’ supernatural powers. In the X-men movies they explain that the cause of the mutants’ supernatural powers is due to a ‘mutation’ in the genes . It is quite fascinating to see mutants in these movies possessing different abilities like telepathy, producing ice, flying etc. Well, coming in terms with reality, mutation is a term that exists in biology. Biologists explain mutation as the natural and permanent variation in gene sequence or base pairs of a DNA. It enables an organism to acquire a special characteristic and become a variant from the normal population.

Research on mutation dates back to 19th century. The idea of mutation mostly revolves around the field of genetics. Gregor Johann Mendel, father of genetics has made one of the greatest contribution to this field. ‘Mendelian inheritance’, ‘plant hybridization’ are some of the phenomenal works and experiments conducted by him. Why am I talking about a 200 years old research topic? To give an answer to that, today in this 21st century, scientists all over the world are trying to create ‘mutants’.

Not human mutants but plant mutants. It is called mutagenesis.

Mutagenesis is a process of changing genetic information of an organism artificially using chemical or physical techniques to create a mutation. This mutation would give a desired character that we want in a plant. So if we want a plant to survive without water we just manipulate and make changes in its genome structure and make it drought resistant!

Use of mutants in functional genomics
How can these mutants be put to use for the mankind and what are the future prospects? The answer to this is very simple. The sole purpose of creating mutants is to achieve the desired traits and characteristics that would be beneficial to us. With the changing climate, creating a plant which can withstand the crisis has become the need of the hour. This technology plays a key role in improving crop quality and provides a promising venture in the field of agriculture. Scientists working at DBT, India have been successful in sequencing 3000 genotypes of rice plant.

After screening this data, a rice variety Nagina22 was chosen for EMS mutagenesis(ethyl methanesulfonate). N22 has high carbon dioxide compensation point, wide compatibility and tolerance to multiple abiotic stresses such as drought and heat and to biotic stresses such as gall midge and white-backed plant hopper. Approximately 85,000 M2 mutant lines have been generated and are available with the network which is being maintained as ‘National Repository of rice EMS Mutant Resource’. Of these mutants, approximately 7000 have been subjected to screening for one or more traits whereas the others are being subjected to screening for ‘specific’ traits.

The major outcome of this endeavour is two variety of mutant crops:
A. Drought tolerant mutant: The mutant was found to be enhanced, water deficit, and stress tolerance to drought at all levels was identified. Morphological, physiological and anatomical studies revealed that the plant had higher membrane stability, chlorophyll content, relative water content, number of closed stomata and root length under drought conditions as compared to the wild type.
B. Heat tolerant mutant: One of the drought tolerant mutant NH-219 identified from mutagenized population after a prolonged exposure to drought in field conditions and polyhouse structure for heat tolerance was found to be more heat tolerant than the wild types. Characterization of NH-219 and wild types revealed that the mutant had increased plant height under heat stress and lesser percentage reduction in pollen viability and chlorophyll content.

These two mutants are few of the marvels that can be created through this breakthrough technology. There are several other plants and crops that have been subjected to mutation and are being tested in order to achieve more desired results. It will be an all time research topic for biotechnologists all around the world.

    1.Current science, Vol 110 No. 4 , 25th February’ 16.: DBT propelled national effort in creating mutant resource for functional genomics in rice. SVA Mithra – ‎2016


    Department of Biotechnology, India.