Rothamsted looks to extend GM wheat trials

NEW GM wheat trials could get underway at Rothamsted Research later this year if plans are given the green light by Defra.

The centre in Harpenden, which was attacked by anti-GM protesters for its aphid resistant wheat trials last year, has submitted an application to extend its current field trial to include additional autumn-sown cadenza wheat. 

Scientists believe it would be ‘advantageous’ to gain further data from their experiment, in wheat planted at a different time of year and under different weather conditions with different aphid populations.

Because the UK’s temperate climate permits wheat plant growth during the winter, Cadenza wheat can be sown in either the autumn or the spring and both sowings are harvested in August/September.

Researchers say the extension of the experiment will further increase the relevance to UK farmers and those in other temperate climates by covering a greater range environmental variability. 

Research leader Professor John Picket said: “With the trial up and running, it seems sensible to make this small adjustment. Autumn infestations of aphids are a real problem too, especially with the varied weather we are having.

“These additional data will add a great deal of value to the overall investigation by testing our wheat plant under a more varied range of environmental conditions throughout the year and in accordance with the different times of the year farmers plant their wheat.”

The autumn extension to the trial will be sown in mid-September and destroyed after 10-12 weeks in late November or late December, depending on the weather. 

Rothamsted research director, Professor Maurice Moloney added: “We worked hard last year to engage the public and listened to their views. The more data we can gather, the more evidence we will be able to obtain for Government and society to make decisions whether they wish to explore this next generation GM technology further.”

The application will be assessed by the independent advisory committee on releases to the environment (ACRE), and by members of the public through a 60-day consultation period.

Email defra.library@defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Readers' comments (1)

  • • Why are these trials necessary? We know from the reports coming out of the US that insect resistance to GM crops develops quickly.
    • What is the point? 12 weeks of growth is unlikely to yield any useful data, and surely a full season of growth would be more informative.
    • Solutions to aphids are already available- it isn't the major headache for farmers that Rothamsted makes out.
    • Money for research into how to repair water-logged soils would be more beneficial to farmers right now.
    • Both Rothamsted and the BBSRC have revealed that this is now a five year project, despite earlier reports of it only running for two. Why does the story keep changing?

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