Britain’s Rothamsted Research Institute’s genetically engineered wheat meant to repel aphids did not pass the tests out in the field.
Scientists working on the project are not discouraged by the unsuccessful attempt to put this wheat in the field and out on the market further. Statements suggest that they will keep conducting research into genetically modified resilient crops.
The triggering idea behind the genetically modified wheat is to address the issue of the food that ends up on our table being sprayed with pesticides.
A noble attempt, yet highly controversial. Genetically modified plants might bring about such small benefits, yet they are held responsible for compromising the food chain and severely contaminating the environment where they are supposed to thrive.
The wheat crop of the Rothamsted Research Institute was pioneering a technology that implied the plants releasing an anti-insect pheromone. Amidst the controversy that surrounds genetically modified organisms, particularly those that end up on our plates, the crop was attacked a couple of times by anti- genetically modified organisms activists.
This prompted an additional 2.2 million pounds expenses for the research. The amount did not go into scientific purposes, rather in building fences and properly securing the pheromone-releasing wheat crop against the protesters. Direct costs for scientific work fared three times lower than this extensive investment in security.
Even so, there was little the fences could do from protecting the wheat crop from failing its purpose. Aphids got the best of it eventually.
Aphids are parasites that typically damage wheat crops by attacking the sugar existing in the wheat plants. At the same time, they spread diseases amongst the plants, which typically prompts the crop to be sprayed with pesticides the likes of those coming from Syngenta or Bayer.
The wheat crop was modified to release the pheromone titled beta-farnesene. Typically, beta-farnesene hormone is found in peppermint for instance. This pheromone is largely responsible for fending off aphids, leading to a natural protection of the crops.
The British research focusing on whether wheat crop releasing beta-farnesene could survive the field trials was not commercially backed. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council funded the research fully.
According to Jonathan Gershenzon from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical ecology, the reason why this experimental genetically modified wheat showed promising results in laboratory trials but did not held the same success in field trials in connected to the beta-farnesene pheromone itself.
Plants which release the pheromone are not as successful in fending aphids in nature, because:
“the aphids get used to the continuous release of their alarm pheromone and thus learn to ignore it.”
Consequently, the research team now plans to address the failure of the field trial with a dose of optimism. Research into the pheromone releasing wheat will continue, only this time around the scientific team plans to genetically modify the wheat to produce the beta-farnesene is waves rather than in the continuous manner it currently does.
The study was released in the Scientific Reports journal and features both laboratory trials and field trials for the pheromone releasing genetically modified wheat crop.
Image Source: inra.fr
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