SEARCA-BIC Primer on BT eggplant


Eggplant (Solanum melongena L.) is a vegetable with worldwide importance. It can have oval, elongated and round fruits that are striped or plain-colored, ranging from dark purple, light purple, green, yellow to white. The fruits are used in many cuisines. They are boiled, stewed, roasted, pickled, fried, or baked. In the Philippines, eggplant is a popular ingredient in dishes such as pinakbet, torta, sinigang, ensalada,and kare-kare.

SEARCA-Biotechnology Information Center Media Release
Released 12 July 2013

Eggplant is considered one of the most common and popular vegetable crop in the country. There are lots of Filipino dishes that use eggplant as its primary ingredient, such as the Ilokano pinakbet, tortang talong (eggplant omelette), and ensalada (referred to as puqui-puqui in the Ilocos region). In 2010, the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics reported that the agricultural sector has produced over 60,000 metric tons of eggplant.
Farmers like Mr. Gil Mercado from Nueva Ecija and Mr. Manuel Espiritu from Isabela earn profits by growing eggplants. Mr. Manuel’s children have all in fact graduated thanks to the income earned from planting and growing eggplants.

However, one of the major problems that farmers face in growing eggplants is the fruit and shoot borer (FSB). This insect pest can reduce the eggplant yield by half and even up to 73 percent. Dr. Lourdes Taylo, an entomologist from the Institute of Plant Breeding, University of the Philippines Los Baños (IPB-UPLB), shares that the female moths usually deposit their eggs in the eggplant leaves. The leaves and shoots of the eggplant becomes the food of the young larvae once the eggs hatch. As the eggplants mature, the caterpillar bores inside the fruit, making the eggplants unfit to sell.

To combat these damages, most farmers like Mr. Mercado and Mr. Espiritu need to heavily spray chemical insecticides to kill the FSB caterpillars. But these insecticides are only effective if the FSB caterpillars have not yet tunneled in the eggplant fruit. The farmers are aware that two months after transplanting the eggplants, only one spray per week is needed. However, they do not want the pests to damage the eggplants further; thus, they spray it every other day which translate to additional input costs. The farmers know that they do have any alternatives in order to control these caterpillars. Mr. Mercado says that he knows the health risk of constantly spraying insecticides which is worsened by not using masks and other personal protective equipment.

The presence of insecticide residues in eggplants, soil, and water have been confirmed by Dr. Jinky Leilani Lu of the National Institutes of Health, University of the Philippines Manila. In her research, Dr. Lu states that pesticide residues were found in eggplants and have exceeded the default maximum residue level. These pesticides can harm human health and may cause headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, signs of listlessness and loss of appetite.

As alternative to the hazardous use of chemicals which are ineffective, expensive, and harmful to farmers and consumers’ health, Dr. Desiree Hautea of IPB-UPLB and a team of researchers are developing the FSB resistant Bt eggplant or Bt talong. Dr. Hautea and her team have been using biotechnological tools since 2003 to develop this biotech eggplant.

Bt talong is FSB resistant primarily because of the natural proteins that it produces. FSB caterpillars that feed on the leaves, fruits, and shoots of the Bt talong eventually stop consuming these parts and die. The protein in Bt talong is very specific such that it only harms the target insect and not the humans and other non-target organisms. Once available, Bt talong can help farmers plant the crop without the need to spray insecticides. Because of this, the farmer saves on labor and pesticide costs. Plus, he would be assured that he is not causing harm to his own health and the environment.

Before this promising biotech crop can be commercialized, extensive laboratory tests and field trials are necessary to fully know and understand its safety and efficacy. To assess the performance of this new crop variety, a rigorous scientific evaluation is also needed. Experts are now looking into this variety in terms of improved agronomic traits, product safety, farmer acceptance, and productivity.

On May 17, 2013, the field trials of Bt talong were ordered to be stopped by the Special Thirteenth Division of the Court of Appeals. Despite this, 16 professional scientific societies in the country have expressed their support for the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision. In a notice released by the university, UPLB noted that there is no strong reason to further stop the trials since the environmental and health concerns were properly addressed.

For more information about Bt eggplant or other biotech developments in the Philippines, visit SEARCA BIC’s website at

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