Rothamsted Research

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Efficient Photosynthesis GM Wheat Trial

Key Points 

  • 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.