|GM 2.0: A new kind of wheat|
|Thursday, 29 March 2012|
The world's first genetically modified crop that has been deliberately engineered to emit a repellent-smelling substance against insect pests is now growing in a small patch of land in the Hertfordshire countryside in the UK, reports The Independent.
Scientists have created the "whiffy" wheat in an effort to combat aphid attacks that can cause upwards of £120m of damage each year to the UK's most important cereal crop, which has an annual value of £1.2bn – and rising.
The field trial, however, is also one of several "second generation" GM crops that scientists hope will be more acceptable to the British public who resoundingly rejected the first generation of commercial GM crops – such as herbicide-tolerant cereals – which are nevertheless grown extensively outside Europe.
The first commercial GM crop was developed in the early 1990s. It was a tomato that would remain fresh after picking and although consumed in the United States, it was never sold in the UK.
Monsanto, the multinational agrochemicals company based in St Louis, Missouri, then came up with a herbicide-tolerant soybean plant. The crop could grow even if sprayed by a weedkiller, which was conveniently made by the same company.
For many people, GM technology was not seen as a socially useful scientific development but a means for companies to increase their market share and profits. The death knell for GM in Britain probably came at the end of the 1990s when a scientist working at a UK research institute claimed to have shown that GM potatoes were poisonous to laboratory rats – even though the research methodology was widely condemned as flawed.
The green movement jumped on GM as anti-environment, while anti-capitalists claimed it was designed to maximise profits at the expense of the people. Meanwhile the Daily Mail came out against "Frankenfood" as unwarranted meddling with the food chain.
But now scientists believe the time has come to fight back. They believe that time is running out for new ways to feed a growing human population, exacerbated by the growing number of wealthy people of the developing world who want to eat to a protein-rich, meat-based diet. Scientists view GM technology as a way of extending the successful "green revolution" of the late 20th Century into the 21st Century.
This is the background to the GM wheat trial in Hertfordshire.
The GM wheat contains an added, synthetic gene that causes the plant to exude an insect pheromone on its leaves which is naturally produced by "frightened" aphids as a warning signal to other aphids. Although the pheromone released by the GM wheat plants will be undetectable to the human nose, the scientists hope that it will deter species of cereal aphids which spread harmful plant viruses as well as sucking energy from the crop.
However, the aphid's "fear" pheromone – known as farnesene – has the opposite effect on beneficial insects, such as ladybirds and parasitic wasps that feed on aphids, because they are attracted to the smell.....
The Independent: Read the full article