Originally published by the Evening Standard
November 5, 2016
by Francesca Gillett
Genetically-modified ‘wonder wheat’ made with sprinkled gold dust which could help scientists feed the world’s poor could be soon grown in the UK
British scientists are planning the world’s first trials of growing the wheat with added genes which boosts how well it can soak up the sun’s energy.
If successful, the breakthrough could lead scientists to do similar things with other staple crops like rice and maize.
In earlier glasshouse experiments using potted plants, the genetically engineered wheat produced yields 20 to 40 per cent higher than normal.
But it is not guaranteed whether the researchers will have the same success in the trials in the field.
It is estimated the world’s food production will have to increase by 40 per cent in the next 20 years to feed the growing population, and up 70 per cent by 2050.
Professor Christine Raines, head of biological sciences at the University of Essex said in 1977 wheat production was increasing at a rate of 30 per cent a year but today growth is nearly zero.
She said: "We really do have an impending major food shortage across the globe."
Scientists at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, have just submitted an application to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for permission to carry out the trials in 2017 and 2018.
A final decision is expected in about three months time after a period of public consultation.
Dr Malcolm Hawkesford, head of plant biology and crop science at Rothamsted Research, said the chances of the GM wheat sharing its genes with wild or farmed plants outside the facility was "very low".
A three metre "pollen barrier" would be placed around the plots and the whole site surrounded by a 20 metre plant-free buffer zone.
Although none of the wheat would be consumed, there was no reason to think it could be toxic or harmful to human health, Dr Hawkesford stressed.
Additional reporting from Press Association.