1st Feb 2017

In exciting news a trial of transgenic wheat has been given the all clear to commence at the Rothamsted Research facility. These modifed wheat have been shown to have improved photosynthesis in lab and glasshouse conditions and now Defra have given permission for a field trial to begin. This will use the advanced phenotying techniques that are available at Rothamsted to assess the growth of this wheat that has been developed in collaboration with the University of Essex and Lancaster University as part of the BBSRC and USDA-funded IWYP program. Importantly the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) have undertaken a full risk assessment alongside a Defra-conducted 48-day public consultation before making this decision.

These transgenic plants have increased levels of the enzyme sedoheptulose-1,7-biphosphatase (SBPase) that results from introducing a version of this enzyme taken from Brachypodium distachyon. Previous experiments in tobacco from the lab of GARNet committee member Christine Raines showed that increased levels of this Calvin cycle enzyme can stimulate increased photosynthesis (Paper here).

It is clear that what happens in the growth chamber or greenhouse might be very different to what might happen in the 'real-life' environment with its myriad changable conditions. Therefore this type of work is essential to show whether these lab findings can be effectively transferred to the field. However there is no guarantee of showing improved photosynthesis in these field experiments. A different transgenic wheat research experiment conducted at Rothamsted showed that the field results did not mirror what was shown in more controlled conditions. This shows how important these type of field experiments are for the ultimate development of improved crops. We will await the results of this new trial with interest.