Rothamsted Wheat Trial : Second generation GM technology to emulate natural plant defence mechanisms
Scientists from Rothamsted Research are conducting a controlled experiment, combining modern genetic engineering with their knowledge of natural plant defences to test whether wheat that can repel aphid attack works in the field.
25th March 2013. Rothamsted Research has submitted an application to the UK Government's Department of food and rural affairs (Defra) to extend our current GM wheat field trial to include additional autumn-sown cadenza wheat.
Please see the latest press release
Aphids (also known as greenfly and blackfly) are unwelcome visitors that suck sap from plants. They cause significant damage to agriculture and reduce farmers' yields by damaging crops and spreading plant diseases.
Wheat is the most important UK crop with an annual value of about £1.2 billion. Currently a large proportion of UK wheat is treated with broad spectrum chemical insecticides to control cereal aphids that reduce yields by sucking sap from plants and by transmitting barley yellow dwarf virus. Unfortunately, repeated use of insecticides often leads to resistant aphids and kills other non-target insect species including the natural enemies of aphids, which could have a further impact on biodiversity.
Scientists at Rothamsted, funded by the UK Government through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research(BBSRC) have been seeking novel ecological solutions to overcome this problem in wheat. One approach has been to use an odour, or alarm pheromone, which aphids produce to alert one another to danger. This odour, (E)-β-farnesene, is also produced by some plants as a natural defence mechanism and not only repels aphids but also attracts the natural enemies of aphids, e.g. ladybirds. Our scientists are using biotechnological tools to genetically engineer a wheat plant which produces high levels of this aphid repelling odour, which could help promote sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture.
This work is sponsored by the BBSRC and not a commercial organisation, nor for commercial gain. It forms part of a wider scientific strategy for Rothamsted Research to meet the challenge of increasing food and energy production in a more environmentally sustainable way.
The history of the work
The work is the product of years of studying how insects naturally interact with one another and with the plants that surround them in the ecosystem through their natural chemistry. The decision to use genetic modification as a tool was after trying other approaches (synthetic dispensers and essential oils with high levels of (E)-β-farnesene) that did not provide effective delivery of the repellent odour. Release of the repellent from the plant will improve the performance of the repellent as done by the wild potato. Our innovative approach to crop protection is based on an understanding of insect chemical ecology. Use of insect repellents and attractants delivered by crops has been used successfully in a push-pull companion cropping system in E. Africa which is a non-GM system. Our new GM project will test if it is possible to deliver semiochemicals from crops themselves instead of having to grow additional companion crops.
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Planned protests on the Rothamsted Research site
We are aware that some individuals may wish to protest on our trial site and have written to the organisers to see if Rothamsted Research can be of assistance on, or leading up to, the planned day of peaceful action. We are committed to engaging people with a diversity of views around our work.
We would be pleased to provide a platform where representatives from their groups and Rothamsted could present their perspectives on this issue. Our scientists will also be on hand to listen to the protestors' concerns and to discuss the trial. We will also make ourselves available to speak to this group before the public day of action, if they wish.
Scientists at Rothamsted research have also made an independent video plea to protestors planning to "decontaminate" their scientific trial, instead asking them to enter into the spirit of dialogue and not a spirit of destruction.
On 3rd April 2012, the Director of Rothamsted Research also wrote to the protestors with an
Further scientific information
The field trial is part of a five-year project funded by the BBSRC.
Operates two national networks for monitoring insect populations in the UK. More...
Provides the research community access to a range of in situ state-of-the-art instrumentation in hydrologically isolated fields and farms to better address key issues in sustainable agriculture. More...
A database of interactions between pathogens and their hosts maintained at Rothamsted Research with international input. More...
These have been running since the mid 19th Century, provide a unique experimental system and archive of soil and plant samples. More...
Rothamsted Research receives
strategic funding from the BBSRC
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