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GM wheat field trials

Rothamsted Research has submitted an application to Defra for permission to carry out GM field trials on the Rothamsted Farm in 2017 and 2018 [1] . Scientists at Rothamsted Research, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Essex and Lancaster University, have developed wheat plants that can carry out photosynthesis more efficiently. This trait has the potential to result in higher yielding plants.

The researchers have genetically modified wheat plants to increase the efficiency of the conversion of energy from sunlight into biomass and have shown that these plants carry out photosynthesis more efficiently in glasshouse conditions. One of the steps in photosynthesis known to limit this process is carried out by the enzyme sedoheptulose-1,7-biphosphatase (SBPase). The wheat plants have been engineered to produce increased levels of SBPase by introducing an SPBase gene from Brachypodium distachyon (common name stiff brome), a plant species related to wheat and used as a model in laboratory experiments. Two types of plants have been produced: one with two extra functional copies of SBPase and one with six extra copies. If granted permission to carry out the field trial, the photosynthetic efficiency of the plants will be measured in the field to determine total aboveground plant biomass and grain yield on an area basis at full maturity. The number of wheat ears on an area basis and the grain number and weight per ear will also be determined to estimate the harvest index, which is the proportion of biomass allocated to the grain.

Wheat is one of the major grain crops worldwide and provides approximately one-fifth of the total calories consumed globally. However, wheat yields have reached a plateau in recent years and it is predicted that yield gains will be insufficient to feed the 9 billion population predicted for 2050. Traditional breeding and agronomic approaches have maximised light capture and allocation to the grain. Improving the efficiency of photosynthesis by genetic modification is a promising approach to achieve higher wheat yield potential.


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