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Radiation dose for shelf life of fruits

Scientists from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), the country’s premier nuclear research facility, will be training experts at the Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswabidyalaya in Naida to increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables using a gamma radiation for a few minutes.

The use of this technology is not a first but the Regional Nuclear Agricultural Centre to be set up in Nadia’s Mohanpur will be the first in the country.

A memorandum of understanding regarding the technology was signed between Board of Research in Nuclear Science, a wing of the Trombay-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and the Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, the leading agriculture university in the state, on February 8.

Experts are hopeful that this will prove to be a turning point in agricultural research and development in the state.

Nuclear scientist K.L. Ramakumar, the director of the radiochemistry and isotope group wing of Board of Research in Nuclear Science, signed the MoU with the university which was represented by vice-chancellor Chittaranjan Koley.

‘The regional centre would start functioning by March at a new building which has already been constructed on the campus. The department of atomic energy has granted Rs 10 crore for this centre,” Ramakumar said.

According to the MoU, the Regional Nuclear Agriculture Research Centre would provide leadership in eastern India in addressing emerging agricultural problems in the region and explore the scope of a second “Green Revolution”.

According to an official from the Centre, the agreement has provisions for high-cost equipment in such research.

BARC has been irradiating several vegetables for many years at Lasalgaon in Maharashtra. The technique of irradiating to keep fruits and vegetables fresh is a practice worldwide.

Vice-chancellor Dey said: “People are prejudiced about nuclear strategic tools. Misconceptions prevail in their mind as they generalise it as atomic power, which might cause health hazards if used in food and vegetables. The scientists at the regional centre would show how the nuclear tools could benefit the society.”

Scientists of the Board of Research in Nuclear Science have decided to take up four projects:

n Increasing the shelf life of perishables such as potatoes, onions, mangoes, bananas and litchis and also of fish and meat, using radiation technology

n Increase soil fertility, the nitrogen level particularly, in the drought-prone areas, and reduce the use of chemical fertilisers

n Molecular characterisation of the mutants

n Radiation technology for enhancing the level of bio-active compounds in medicinal plants

“Under these projects we have planned some experiments. We have taken up a plan in which a special hybrid species of karela (bitter gourd) will be developed with the support of a wild variety which has medicinal value and can be effective for clinical use on HIV positive patients as well as diabetics,” Koley said.

“We will show the farmers how nuclear energy could help increase the shelf life of fruits such as mango and litchi for at least 48 days. The technology could also aid in altering the nutrients in fruits such as bananas, thus making for a higher iron content that would be of use to people with anaemia,” said pro-vice chancellor Biswapati Mandal.

He added that the most important outcome would be the production of high-quality seeds.

“So far, farmers were dependent on seeds produced in other states. BARC’s nuclear agriculture and biotechnology wing, with help of the mutation breeding process, has developed 41 varieties of oil seeds and pulses. Nuclear technology could change farming by bringing about beneficial changes in seed development, tissue culture and preservation techniques. We expect the same thing here in Mohanpur,” said Mandal.

Groundnut seeds will be a focus of this experiment.