The UK Department of Agriculture has approved the first European field trials of genetically modified wheat using the new Crispr/Cas genetic engineering process. Announced last week by the Rothamsted Research Institute (RRI), which will grow asparagus wheat in its north London fields every autumn for five years starting in September. Alliance GM Freeze warned that “this highly experimental wheat poses a risk to farmers and the food chain.”
According to RRI, scientists turned off the TaASN2 gene in common wheat (Triticum aestivum) using old and new genetic engineering. As a result, plants in the greenhouse sometimes produced only about ten percent of the usual amount of asparagine amino acid. Asparagus turns into the cancer-causing substance acrylamide during baking or roasting, explained project manager Nigel Halford. Acrylamide “is found in bread and increases significantly when bread is toasted, but it is also found in other wheat products and many fried, baked, toasted or roasted plant foods, including chips, other snacks, French fries, and coffee.” In the European Union, limit values apply to acrylamide in food.
In a 1,500-square-meter test field, researchers want to determine how much asparagus can be produced in the open air, and how genetic modification affects the yield and protein content of plants. The goal in the medium term is to select those plants that no longer contain tools from ancient genetic engineering and are therefore no longer genetically modified in Halford’s view. Although it should start soon, according to the RRI, only the first year of a series of field tests has been funded. As reported, the money comes from a government fund. Funds for a scholarship for a doctoral student who genetically modified wheat plants came from five British wheat breeders, among others.
“It is hard to understand the thinking that leads genetic engineering developers to decide that deforming the DNA of a staple crop is a more effective response to the controversial risks of burnt toast than teaching people how to properly use a toaster.” GM Freeze director Liz O sneered at Neal. The interference harms the wheat genome much more than just asparagus production. O’Neill cautioned that genetic mutations are not stable, but they do have a negative effect on germination and seed size change. As reported, scientists from GM Freeze have already listed the risks of the experiment in a detailed statement up front. Among other things, they warned that the plants could spread uncontrollably in experimental cultivation in the open field.
RRI researchers consider cross-breeding GM wheat relatively unlikely, because wheat is a self-pollinating crop. However, the UK Department of Agriculture requires that a three-meter wide pollen barrier be planted around the experiment field. The distance between other wheat fields should be at least 20 meters. State inspectors control the field trial. Unauthorized persons must be removed from the site. [vef]
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