Rothamsted to carry out more GM trials

THE director of Rothamsted Research has revealed that more GM trials will be undertaken at the institute over the next five years.

Despite the opposition to the technology in the UK and Europe, scientists are continuing to develop new products in the UK.

A trial of wheat modified to resist aphids using an odour, or alarm pheromone, which aphids produce to alert one another to danger, is continuing at the Hertfordshire institute, after efforts to halt it last year were thwarted.

Rothamsted director Maurice Moloney said, however, that even if ‘everything goes perfectly’ and the the variety is approved, it would then be another five years before it reaches the market, if a commercial company is prepared to take it on.

But there will be more to come. Rothamsted is also working on a GM omega-3 oilseed rape variety which could replace wild fish in food for farmed salmon.

Prof Moloney, a biotech pioneer who was influential in developing some of the first GM crops in the 1990s, said this was a ‘potentially enormous market and could solve a big environmental problem with fish oils and the availability of wild fish’.

“We see that as something that has to move forward and the only way is field trials,” he said.

He added that Rothamsted would continue announcing GM trials over the next five years. These would include crops with traits added to provide economic benefits for farmers and to improve the ‘quality of the final product in ways that could not be done without GM, he said.

Elsewhere, a three-year trial of GM blight-resistant potatoes has shown ‘promising’ early signs, according to the John Innes Centre, Norfolk, which developed the variety.

Prof Moloney was speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, where the debate on GM crops was reignited by a stark admission by leading environmentalist Mark Lynas that he was wrong to campaign against GM crops.

Mr Lynas, who as recently as 2008 was accusing biotech companies of making ‘outlandish’ and ‘misleading’ claims about GM crops, turned on critics of GM technology, accusing a ‘vocal minority of people in rich countries’ of potentially ‘getting in the way’ of feeding millions of people across the planet.   

The speech, during which Mr Lynas apologised for ‘ripping up’ GM crops in the 1990s, has provoked an extraordinary response. Around a quarter of million people have read the speech, which has been translated into at least four languages, online, whicle a video of the speech has ben downloaded thousands of times.

The speech has also provoked much debate globally in the media and scientific and environmental communities.

Among the most eye-catching responses was a tweet, accompanied by a private email, by Julie Bourlag thanking Mr Lynas for his ‘honest comments about GMOs’ on behalf of her grandfather, the iconic crop scientist Norman Borlaug, who died in 2009.

Mr Lynas said he was ‘amazed and honoured’ by the response and said, while he has received some vitriolic abuse over his dramatic change of heart, the response had been ‘overwhelmingly positive’.

Defra Secretary Owen Paterson also spoke out strongly in favour of GM crops at the conference, calling for GM to be debated ‘in its proper overall context with a balanced understanding of the risk and benefits’.

He said there were potentially ‘massive gains’ to be made from reducing pesticide use and inputs like diesel with GM crops.

Readers' comments (3)

  • What's missing from this picture ?

    We have politicians and scientists backing GM - will they have to pay to use GM products in their job or livelihood ? No, but they will get very rich from the proceeds.

    Farmers need to have their own debate into wether we want to grow GM food. We are being led into a situatiuon where a few will "Corner the market" where we will HAVE to buy the seed.

    Mr Patterson should do his job - he's being paid taxes by the majority to look after THIER interests. Not push the interests of a few scientists.

    DEFRA has it's priorities upsidedown. Start working for the tax payers and stop demoting this country and the people who pay the taxes.

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  • EuropaBio recruited GM promoters to persuade governments and the public to accept genetically manipulated (GM) crops & foods: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/20/europabio-gm-ambassadors-europe?newsfeed=true A PR company file places Mark Lynas among them.Lynas cluelessly trashed GM crops in the '90s but his uncritical backing for GM crop science is also misplaced. Key unresolved concerns for the public and many scientists include farm viability, food safety and security, GM pollution & patents on the food supply that transfer ownership and control to a few corporations.

    Professor of Ecology John Vandermeer at Michigan University Ann Arbor cogently argues that Lynas’ opinion is unsophisticated and unscientific: http://www.foodfirst.org/en/GMO+uproar+in+EU

    The Guardian also reports that EuropaBio recruited GM promoters to persuade governments and the public to accept genetically manipulated (GM) crops & foods: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/20/europabio-gm-ambassadors-europe?newsfeed=true A leaked PR company file places Mark Lynas among them.

    The GM industry makes many promises that GM techniques cannot deliver despite 30 years and $50 billion trying – crop drought and salt tolerance, nitrogen fixation in grains, longer shelf-life food, food biofortified with micro-nutrients, etc. But as Dr Richard Richards of Australian CSIRO Plant Industry says: “GM technologies are generally only suitable for the single gene traits, not complex multigenic ones.” And Dr Heather Burrow, former CEO of the Beef Co-operative Research Centre, says: “… hundreds, even thousands, of interacting genes control important production traits like growth rate, feed efficiency and meat quality - not the handful that researchers had originally believed.” Though GM techniques are useful research tools their range of broad-acre products stalled in 1996. Let’s move on.

    Professor of Ecology John Vandermeer at Michigan University Ann Arbor cogently disputes Lynas unsophisticated and non-scientific opinion: http://www.foodfirst.org/en/GMO+uproar+in+EU

    The GM industry makes many fake promises that GM cannot deliver - drought and salt tolerance, nitrogen fixation in grains, longer shelf-life food, food biofortified with micro-nutrients, etc. But as Dr Richard Richards of Australian CSIRO Plant Industry says: “GM technologies are generally only suitable for the single gene traits, not complex multigenic ones.” And Dr Heather Burrow, former CEO of the Beef Co-operative Research Centre, says: “… hundreds, even thousands, of interacting genes control important production traits like growth rate, feed efficiency and meat quality - not the handful that researchers had originally believed.” Though GM techniques are useful research tools their products are a dud.

    Lynas' cluelessly trashed GM crops in the '90s but his backing for GM crop science is also misplaced. For the public and many scientists, farm viability, food safety and security, GM pollution & patents on the food supply that transer ownership and control to a few corporations are key unresolved concerns.

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  • The media in general claimed:

    'Wheat has been engineered with a gene from a peppermint plant so that it emits a particular pheromone.'
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17542627

    'The experimental crop of GM wheat was planted in April and is due to grow until September. It has been developed with genes from the mint plant.'
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/9293301/Scientists-insist-GM-wheat-is-safe-as-protesters-vow-to-tear-up-crop.html

    However, according to Rothamsted Research:

    'The genes we inserted into the wheat plants were chemically synthesised and not taken from another plant or animal. The gene that makes (E)-ß-farnesene, encodes a protein that is similar to that found in peppermint but versions of this gene are also present in many other plants. The other gene that is needed, the "farnesyl pyrophosphate synthase gene", is widespread in nature and can be found in most organisms.
    We used synthetic genes which is a standard procedure for modern molecular biology. The synthetic form of the farnesyl pyrophosphate synthase gene we used encodes a protein that happens to be most similar to that found in cow but is not significantly different to the versions found in nearly all other organisms. It is not a cow gene, it just looks like one. A bit like two unrelated individuals who have an uncanny resemblance to each other.'

    http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/Content.php?Section=AphidWheat&Page=QA (Technical Questions)

    According to The Guardian's science correspondant Ian Sample:

    'The campaigners fear genes from the GM wheat will escape and contaminate conventional wheat. Wheat self-pollinates, so it cannot cross with other plants. To prevent stray pollen the Rothamsted scientists have surrounded the trial plots with 10 metres of barley and three metres of conventional wheat.
    No cereals or grasses are grown within 20 metres of the border. Wheat pollen is heavy and travels at most 12 metres.'

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/may/01/anti-gm-activists-wheat-rothamsted

    According to the study Gene Flow From Glysophate-Resistant Crops:

    'Gene flow via pollen can occur in all crops, even those that are considered to be self pollinated..'

    http://www.cof.orst.edu/cof/teach/agbio2010/Readings%202010/Mallory-Smith%20and%20Zapiola%20Gene%20flow%20from%20glypho-resist%20crops%202008.pdf

    Two quotes from the study Gene Flow Between Wheat And Wild Relatives:

    'With this combined approach, we detected substantial gene flow between wheat and Aegilops species.'

    'Nevertheless, a several admixed individuals were observed in populations distant from wheat cultivations (i.e. the SP12, SP15 and IT8 populations, collected at 800 m, >5 km and >15 km from cultivations, respectively, Fig. 3). Because long-distance pollen dispersal of wheat has been reported (De Vries 1971; Zaharieva and Monneveux 2006; Matus-Cadiz et al. 2007), it might partly explain our results.'

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3352535/

    Wheat for Weetabix is sourced within a 50 mile radius of Burton Latimer http://www.weetabix.co.uk/questions (How Many Weetabix Do You Make?). Harpenden is within that catchment.

    'Gene Flow From Glysophate-Resistant Crops' warned:

    'However, regulators should consider the examples of gene ?ow from glyphosate-resistant crops when formulating rules for the release of crops with traits that could negatively impact the environment or human health.'

    'It would be irresponsible of regulators not to consider the GR crop gene flow data when formulating rules for the release of GE crops in the future'

    http://www.cof.orst.edu/cof/teach/agbio2010/Readings%202010/Mallory-Smith%20and%20Zapiola%20Gene%20flow%20from%20glypho-resist%20crops%202008.pdf

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