Genetically modified wheat boasts 11-percent higher yield
Wheat is one of the planet's most widely grown crops, so any increases in its grain yield could go a long way towards reducing world hunger. That's where a new variety of the plant comes in, as its yield is reportedly up to 11 percent higher than that of regular wheat.
One commonly used approach to boosting grain yield involves genetically modifying wheat plants, so that each one produces a greater number of grains. While this has worked in the past, the technology has somewhat plateaued in recent years – according to Britain's University of York, the annual rate of yield increase currently sits at less than 1 percent.
Another approach involves causing the grains to grow larger and heavier. Unfortunately, though, plants that have been altered to produce bigger grains usually also grow fewer of them. As a result, the actual amount of food that can be obtained from each plant remains the same.
Led by Prof. Simon McQueen-Mason, York scientists set out to address the latter problem.
In their new genetically modified wheat, levels of a growth-rate-determining protein known as expansin are increased in the young plants. When those plants mature, they produce grains that are up to 12.3 percent heavier than those of their conventional counterparts, but which are also no fewer in number. The increased growth rate is limited to the grains, with the rest of each plant remaining normal.
Colleagues at the Universidad Austral de Chile successfully grew the new wheat in field trials conducted under regular agricultural conditions. Once the plants had been harvested, the final grain yield of the best-performing transgenic line was 11.3 percent higher than that of a control crop of traditional wheat.
The research is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal New Phytologist.
Source: University of York