Gene-edited wheat gains acceptance as drought concerns grow

The decision late last year by Brazil to allow the import of flour manufactured from genetically modified wheat grown in Argentina may be a harbinger of future acceptance of gene-edited wheat worldwide, as demand grows for a crop that can withstand drought.

The decision is also evidence of growing acceptance of gene editing in Latin America, which is becoming a hub for gene editing research.

Brazil became the first nation to officially authorize the import of flour manufactured from genetically modified wheat in November, according to Reuters, although objections from the Brazilian milling industry mean those imports may not happen for a while.

Nonetheless, “the decision may spur a broader global discussion about genetically modified wheat as prices rise and concerns grow that more severe weather could threaten food security,” according to Reuters.

The HB4 Wheat developed by Bioceres in Argentina is genetically modified to withstand drought. This is important becauseloss from drought is the greatest cause of reduced yields in wheat crop, according to research, and climate change is said to be increasing the chance of drought.

Latin America becomes a hub for gene editing research

Latin America, as noted by Innovature.com, is fast becoming a global hub for gene editing research.

For instance, Brazilian scientists have modified tomato genesto grow a crop that produces 10 times more fruit than usual. The new tomato also includes 500% more lycopene—a healthy antioxidant—than regular store-bought tomatoes.

Researchers in Argentina have developed a new form of potato that may store longer than normal types. Improved potatoes also demand less water throughout the growth process, which is a major advantage in an era when water is becoming scarcer.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, where 41% of the population is food insecure, cross-border research has resulted in a kind of rice that is resistant to bacterial blight, according to Innovature.com. Blight is a major issue in Colombia, which produces 90% of the rice consumed, and gene editing may help enhance food security.

The first GMO wheat field experiments in Europe

On the opposite side of the Atlantic, in the United Kingdom, scientists from Rothamsted Research have recently gotten authorization from the authorities to begin planting the country’s first samples of GMO wheat.

According to Farmers Weekly,the first field experiments of CRISPR-edited wheat in the UK or Europe were planted this fall at a Hertfordshire UK-based research facility.

British researchers utilized gene editing to create wheat with a lower level of a cancer-causing chemical prevalent in toast, as it was Rothamsted Research’s website: “The wheat has been edited to reduce levels of the naturally occurring amino acid, asparagine, which is converted to the carcinogenic processing contaminant, acrylamide, when bread is baked or toasted.”

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