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First GM wheat to repel aphids tested in UKqrcode

Mar. 30, 2012

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Mar. 30, 2012

Wheat Plants which have been genetically engineered to produce an aphid alarm pheromone to repel the pests have gone into a field trial at Rothamsted.

Announcing the trial in London this week, scientists said the genetically modified (GM) plants would cut the amount of insecticides currently being used on crops.

This will be only the third current field trial of a GM crop variety in the UK.

Scientific leader of chemical ecology at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Prof John Pickett, said: “We have been under a lot of pressure to produce crops that don’t rely on insecticides because there is a problem with resistance developing, and people’s perception of it.”

Scientists, who started work on the project in 1985, have used a gene from a peppermint plant which enables the wheat plants to produce high amounts of the alarm pheromone, E-alpha Farnesene.

The pheromones also attract parasitic wasps which are natural predators of aphids.

Prof Maurice Moloney said this pheromone acted as a ‘no parking zone’ on the leaf of every plant, resulting in the aphids ‘dispersing’.

Aphids cause significant damage to crop yields and can also spread plant diseases.

Experts estimate the cost of aphid damage at between £70m and £120m a year, although insecticides are widely used to keep the pests under control.

The trial, which will run throughout the summer, is expected to attract GM protesters and Prof Pickett said the site was well secured to avoid any disruption.

However, he said sections of the public were slowly coming around to the idea of GM, especially at a time when there was increasing pressure on farmers to produce more food.

"We have found there is a lot of common ground here,” he said.

"We feel there is a better view of it from the public. This experiment is of global great significance.”

Prof Moloney added: “This is a critical experiment to begin Rothamsted’s investigation of second generation GM technologies which focus upon naturally occurring deterrents of pests and diseases.

"We believe that using GM as a tool to emulate natural defence mechanisms provides a unique and world-leading approach that will also benefit the environment.”

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