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article imageNew non-GMO ‘super wheat’

By Tim Sandle     Sep 19, 2014 in Environment
Seattle - Botanists have discovered a wheat gene that can be used as a vehicle to transfer key genes from other plants to wheat. The discovery will allow farmers to develop new robust wheat varieties without having to resort to GMO crops.
In theory, the new gene can be used to create so-called ‘super varieties’ of wheat that will be
disease- and pest-resistance. The hunt for the gene came from the premise that wild varieties of wheat cross frequently bred and so the wheats of the past were more robust. As wheat became a staple crop and was drawn into intensive agricultural production, this process slowed down, leading to the modern form of wheat. The problem is that the lack of genetic diversity is said to leave the modern form of wheat more vulnerable to diseases.
Researchers identified a gene in wheat that prevents wheat from sharing genetic information with other grasses like rye. The gene is called Ph1. Experiments have shown that the gene sequence can be “temporarily silenced” so that rye and other chromosomes can pair with wheat and transfer genes by a natural method into wheat.
The first study successfully transferred a gene from jointed goatgrass, a wild relative of wheat, to confer resistance to stripe rust to wheat. The success of this should pave the way for other disease specific genes to be transferred.
In finding the gene, the researchers have found a path to create more robust wheat while at the same time avoiding, the need for genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The research was conducted at Washington State University. The findings have been reported to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in a paper headed “Silencing of a metaphase I-specific gene results in a phenotype similar to that of the Pairing homeologous 1 (Ph1) gene mutations.”
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