GM wheat find a breakthrough

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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Genetically modified wheat boasting significant yield increases is on the horizon, after a CSIRO and Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) project accidentally uncovered a gene to increase biomass and grain production.

GRDC chairman Keith Perrett said researchers had been working on other attributes within the wheat plant when they discovered the gene, which was demonstrating yield increases of up 30 per cent in greenhouse trials.

"It was one of those chance discoveries you have when you're doing that kind of research," Mr Perrett said.

"We were actually looking at modifying starch content in grains to make healthier products and more valuable products for certain processes."

CSIRO director of Food Futures Flagship Bruce Lee said the discovery paved the way to have a major impact on food production globally.

"With this technology we see a more vigorous wheat with increased vegetative growth, larger seed heads and larger seeds," he said.

This week GRDC and CSIRO announced they were entering into a partnership with agricultural giant Bayer CropScience to build on the discovery.

Mr Perrett said getting the product to commercialisation was a complex process that would be aided by the multi-national.

"First we have to get proof of concept - we're at that stage at the moment - and then we have to look at the processes of putting that into a commercial product," he said.

"We then have to look at a deregulation process and that would not just be Australia, but around the world.

"To do that is quite expensive, it's not something that Australia can do on its own.

"It's probably seven to eight years away from commercial reality at this stage and then that would depend on the world's acceptance of a GM wheat product."

But ultimately, Mr Perrett believes discoveries like this will play a pivotal role when it comes to meeting the food security needs of the future.

"If we are able to put something in the market place that even gave you a 10 per cent yield increase that would be significant for Australian growers," he said. "We need every opportunity we can find to increase productivity in the grain industry. This could be one of those tools."

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