Researchers seek go-ahead for ‘high iron’ GM wheat field trials

UK – Researchers at John Innes Centre, an independent plant and microbial research institution have applied to the United Kingdom regulatory authorities for the approval to begin field trials of genetically modified wheat starting April.

Research carried out at the research center seeks to introduce a wheat variety in which more iron is directed into the endosperm, the part of the grain from which white flour is milled.

The group seeks two small-scale field trials of genetically modified wheat and gene-edited Brassica.

According to the scientists, the new wheat line will help address global iron deficiency which has led to several cases of anaemia.

Crops such as wheat are a staple in many countries but the iron content contained in them has proved difficult to improve, thus many wheat products for human consumption are artificially fortified with iron.

“However, in the process of milling, most of the iron is removed together with the germ and bran.

White flour usually contains between 5 and 8 mg of iron per kilogram, which is low for human nutrition.

Therefore, in the UK and many other countries in the world, iron powder or iron salts are added to flour and breakfast cereals.

In the UK, there is a legal requirement to bring the iron concentration of milled flour up to 16.5 mg per kg,” said John Innes Centre.

In 2017, researchers at the John Innes Centre identified a gene, TaVIT2, which encodes for an iron transporter in wheat.

The researchers have developed a wheat line that contains 20 mg per kg iron in milled white flour when plants are grown in greenhouse conditions, thus eliminating the need to add iron as an extra ingredient to wheat flour.

The application for the wheat trial was made to the U.K. Department of Environment Food & Rural Affairs by Professor Cristobal Uauy and is set to take place between April and September each year between 2019 and 2022.

One of the project leaders, Professor Lars Ostergaard has also written for approval to trial Brassica oleracea plants to determine the role of the gene, MYB28 which regulates sulphur metabolism in field grown plants such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts.

The production of sulphur-containing compounds in Brassica vegetables is of economic and nutritional significance due to their health-promoting potential.

In 2017, scientists at Rothamsted Research received consent from UK authorities to trial GM wheat that uses sunlight more efficiently and boosts greenhouse yields by up to 40%.

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