U.K. research set to test GM wheat for higher yields

Rothamsted Research, the world’s oldest agricultural research organization, received approval from the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to embark on a field trial raising bioengineered wheat expected to display higher average yields than varieties without the genetic modification.
The experimental wheat cultivars will be grown in greenhouses and have been designed to carry out photosynthesis more efficiently through the addition of a gene from Brachypodium distachyon, commonly called the stiff brome, a plant species related to wheat.
Plans are to measure the level of photosynthetic efficiency of the bioengineered wheat and determine aboveground plant biomass and grain yield at maturity. Scientists involved in the study also will measure the number of wheat ears as well as the grain number and weight of each ear.
The purpose of the experiment will be to explore performance of the bioengineered wheat in light of the fact that a growing world population will require global food production to increase by 40% in the next 20 years and 70% by 2050.
Wheat currently provides about one-fifth of total calories consumed globally, but yields have plateaued in recent years.
“Traditional breeding and agronomic approaches have maximized light capture and allocation to the grain,” said Rothamsted Research. “A promising but as yet unexploited route to increase wheat yields is to improve the efficiency by which energy in the form of light is converted to wheat biomass.”
The research project is being funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council in the United Kingdom and the United States Department of Agriculture as part of the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP).
The IWYP, founded in 2014, is an independent research funding consortium responding to major priorities of the internationally sponsored Wheat Initiative. The Wheat Initiative undertakes research to contribute to global food and nutritional security.

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