Crop researchers in the UK have applied for a government-granted license to allow them to test a new variety of genetically modified wheat. The UK, along with much of Europe, has traditionally taken a tougher stance on genetically modified crops, compared to the US.
The genetically modified wheat is capable of performing more efficient photosynthesis, thereby boosting crop production. If granted approval, this field trial would be one of only two outdoor experiments involving genetically modified crops currently being conducted in the UK.
The researchers could receive approval as early as January of 2017, with the first crops to be planted at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden in the spring. For over 20 years, researchers have had the ability to genetically modify crops, however protesters damaged some of the first outdoor experiments in the late 1990s, leading to researchers to stop conducting open-air trials between 2003 and 2010.
The other ongoing experiment of genetically modified crops involves rape seed plants, which began in 2014. The site of this experiment – also at Rothamsted Research – has not faced any protester-related disturbances.
“I believe that there is less opposition to genetic modification,” said Professor Christine Raines, head of the school of biological sciences at the University of Essex, and a researcher involved in the wheat study. “I would like to think that it is to do with the fact there has been a great effort made by plant scientists to explain more fully and clearly the potential of genetically modified plants to improve our future.”
According to Raines, these field studies are essential in testing whether the genetically modified wheat can increase food production. Wheat yields have remained steady for the past 30 years, despite attempts to increase those using traditional breeding methods.
World food production will need to be boosted by about 40 percent in the next 20 years, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s projections. If the genetically modified wheat trial is approved, this research could help meet the growing demand for food in the UK.