GE FIELD TRIAL APPLICATION SUBMITTED TO DEFRA
Field assessment of ultra-low asparagine, low acrylamide, gene edited wheat
Rothamsted Research has applied to DEFRA for a licence to carry out field trials of gene edited (GE) wheat.
The plan is for a project of up to five years, ending in 2026, with plants being sown in September/October each year and harvested the following September.
This application follows previous GM wheat and camelina trials carried out by Rothamsted Research across two sites in Hertfordshire and Suffolk over the last 10 years.
The project involves wheat in which the concentration of an amino acid called asparagine has been reduced in the grain using CRISPR, a GE technique. Asparagine is one of the amino acids used to make proteins but in its free (non-protein) form it can be converted to a toxic contaminant called acrylamide during baking and high-temperature processing.
Study lead Professor Nigel Halford said: “We believe that asparagine levels can be reduced substantially without compromising grain quality. This would benefit consumers by reducing their exposure to acrylamide from their diet, and food businesses by enabling them to comply with regulations on the presence of acrylamide in their products.
“That is a long-term goal, however, and this project aims to assess the performance of the low asparagine wheat plants in the field and measure the concentration of asparagine in the grain produced under field conditions.”
CRISPR is a gene editing technique in which small changes are made in a target gene, in this case to knock that gene out so that a functional protein is no longer made from it. The process initially involves genetic modification to introduce genes required for CRISPR into the plant.
Once the edit has been made the GM part can be removed from the plants by self-pollinating them and identifying plants in the next generation that are no longer GM.
Checking for the presence of the GM genes is straightforward using a test called PCR (the same type of test as that used to detect COVID-19).
The plants in this project initially had three genetic modifications made to them, and the ones being used for the field trial still have the genes from one or more of these.
“The larger number of plants we can have in the field trial compared with a glasshouse will make it easier to identify plants that are no longer GM. This means that the first year of the trial will have plants that are both GE and GM but by the third year of the trial we expect them to be GE only,” said Professor Halford.
Defra received Rothamsted’s application on 06/04/2021, and the department has 90 days from then to process it - unless they have to stop the clock for any clarification or additional information.
The department’s reference for the trial is 21/R08/01.
The Secretary of State will consider any representations made to him relating to any risks of damage to the environment posed by the release of the GE/GM wheat within a period that he shall specify in accordance with the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) Regulations 2002.
The public register can be inspected by contacting the Defra GM Team at Second Floor, Seacole Building, Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, and include the application reference number, 21/R08/01, in the e-mail title). This information will also be placed on the GOV.UK website.
The project also involves the University of Bristol, who will be helping to develop rapid systems to detect the edited genes and is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Super Follow-on Fund. This funding covers preparation for the trial and the first year of the trial itself. We will seek further funding for the subsequent four years.
About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit https://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.