Eight years after decoding the jute genome, Bangladeshi scientists have come up with a highly productive new variety, with finer and stronger fibre, and brighter texture 

The success of Bangladeshi scientists in decoding the genome map of the jute plant has finally started yielding results in terms of new varietal development.

By triggering expression of a gene in jute plants, scientists at the Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI) have successfully developed a new variety, which has a 20 percent higher yield potential, finer and stronger fibre quality, and can be planted early in the season, thereby freeing up land seasonally for rice cultivation. 

The National Seed Board yesterday officially released the promising jute variety - BJRI Tossa-8 (also known as Robi-1) - the first variety derived through enhancing the expression of a specific gene responsible for fibre formation in jute plants.

Thanks to BJRI scientists, who were at the forefront of sequencing the genome of jute plants back in 2010 and hold several international patents on this,  they now know which gene triggers better quality and greater quantity of fibres in jute plants.

BJRI Director General, Dr Md Monjurul Alam, told Dhaka Tribune yesterday that Robi-1 has 20 percent more yield potential, compared to the hitherto best Bangladeshi Tossa variety, BJRI Tossa-2. Prior to yesterday’s official release, the new variety was field tested in 12 different locations across the country and its yield was found to be 3.33 tons a hectare, compared to BJRI Tossa-2’s 2.77 tons.

“One of the other great features is, the new jute variety can be planted far in advance, compared to other Tossa varieties and thereby, jute growers would not miss out on the prime Aman rice season,” explained Dr Alam.  

By taking advantage of knowledge gained from jute’s gene mapping, the jute specialists are now also in an advanced stage of developing at least three more new varieties, having different key traits, which will help Bangladesh offer the world a better quality natural fibre.

In 2010, internationally acclaimed Bangladeshi scientist Maqsudul Alam and his team members that included, among others, Dr Md Monjurul Alam, successfully decoded the jute plant genome, opening up a new vista in the development of varieties of the world's most adored biodegradable natural fibre.

Experts had said then that the development (gene sequencing) would help improve fibre length and quality, including colours and strength, and develop high yielding, saline, and pest-tolerant jute varieties through genetic engineering.

Maqsudul Alam, who served as a professor of the University of Hawaii, and had earlier decoded the Papaya genome in the US and the rubber plant in Malaysia, led from the forefront in sequencing the jute genome. After his death, Dr Md Monjurul Alam, carried forward the research work on varietal developments and finally success came their way.

Jute is the second largest fibre crop, in terms of cultivation, after cotton. Bangladesh is the world's second-largest producer of jute, after India, and the world's largest exporter of the fibre.

BJRI scientists told Dhaka Tribune that the new jute variety would produce finer and stronger fibres with brighter texture compared to other jute varieties now being grown in the country.

They expect that farmers would be able to derive quality jute seed from the new Robi-1 variety and it will eventually decrease Bangladesh’s dependence on India for quality jute seeds.

Currently, 85 percent of Bangladesh’s yearly jute fibre output comes from Tossa Jute and the remaining 15 percent from White Jute. Roughly some 5,000 tons of jute seeds are imported to Bangladesh from India a year.

Source: Dhaka Tribune