Rothamsted Research has applied to Defra for permission to conduct a field trial of GM wheat plants that have been engineered to carry out photosynthesis more efficiently, i.e. to harness light energy in a more efficient way.
The increased photosynthetic efficiency has the potential to result in higher yields in the GM plants in the field.
The trial aims to test the efficacy of these plants in field conditions.
Wheat yields have plateaued globally and there is a pressing need to develop new higher yielding wheat varieties using the same amount of resources and land.
Scientists from Rothamsted Research, the University of Essex and Lancaster University have been working on understanding photosynthesis and improving its efficiency for more than 25 years.
The research is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of the International Wheat Yield Partnership Consortium.
A public consultation on this proposed field trial has now begun and is available on the Government (Defra) website.
Ensuring food and nutritional security is a major challenge given the projected need to increase world food production by 40% in the next 20 years and 70% by 2050.
Wheat is one of the major grain crops worldwide and provides approximately one-fifth of the total calories and protein consumed globally.
Wheat yields have reached a plateau in recent years.
A promising route to increase wheat yields is to improve the efficiency by which light energy is converted to wheat biomass in the process called photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis is the major determinant of energy conversion efficiency.
Traditional breeding and agronomic approaches have maximised light capture and the proportion of total biomass allocated to the grain.
Genetic modification is a promising approach to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis and in this project it is being explored to achieve higher wheat yield potential.
This is a small scale proof of concept field experiment to test the potential of the GM plants to carry out photosynthesis more efficiently and deliver higher yields in relevant field conditions.