> Experimental ‘Super Yield’ GM Wheat Trial Gets Green Light - The Food Safety Company Experimental ‘Super Yield’ GM Wheat Trial Gets Green Light - The Food Safety Company
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    Thursday, 2 February 2017

    Experimental ‘Super Yield’ GM Wheat Trial Gets Green Light

    A new form of genetically modified wheat designed to use sunlight more efficiently, thereby boosting yields upon harvest, will be planted in UK fields this spring after the trial was given the go-ahead by regulatory bodies.

    The GM wheat has been modified to carry a gene found in stiff brome (Bromus rigidus), a wild relative of the traditionally-cultivated wheat strain (Triticum aestivum), which researchers at Rothamsted Research believe will enable the wheat to carry out photosynthesis more efficiently, resulting in more sunlight and CO2 being converted into grain.

    The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have approved the latest trial following an application filed by Rothamsted Research last autumn which sought permission to carry out small field tests at a secure site in Harpenden between 2017 and 2019. The application came after rigorous testing in greenhouses resulting in a 20-40% yield increase.

    The field-based research project will be conducted in partnership with Lancaster University and the University of Essex, backed by funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

    Dr Malcolm Hawkesford of Rothamsted Research spoke to the BBC about the team’s initial success during greenhouse tests, telling the publication, “[The gene] makes the plant bigger in the greenhouse, it makes the leaves grow bigger, and that's because you have more of this photosynthesis going on,

    “Once you start to produce grain all of that CO2 fixation starts to get targeted into the production of more grain. You end with bigger plants and more grain.”

    The researchers now hope to replicate these results in the field. However, as Dr Hawkesford told the BBC, achieving such dramatic boots in yield once out from under the glass will be far from easy:

    “At the moment with traditional methods if you get one percent you are pretty happy, anything more than a few percent would be super yielding. I would be happy if we could get 5-10; anything more than that would be absolutely massive.”

    Despite Dr Hawkesford’s optimism, the plan is far from universally praised, as is often the case with GM crops. The main concern expressed by the 30 green organisations which have lodged complaints is that the new, modified wheat variety may escape into the wild, which could have a substantial effect on local ecosystems. They call attention to the various times this has reportedly happened in the US as validation of their concerns.

    Other critics, such as Liz O’Neill from GM Freeze, which describes itself as ‘the UK’s umbrella campaign on GM food, crops and patents’, see the trial as a drain on much-need resources that could be better used elsewhere.

    O’Neill sates that, “People aren't starving because photosynthesis isn't efficient enough; people are starving because they are poor,

    “Techno-fixes like GM wheat suck up public funding that could make a real difference if it was spent on systemic solutions like waste reduction and poverty eradication. Then we could all enjoy food that is produced responsibly, fairly and sustainably.”

    Sam Bonson

    Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.
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