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GM crops do not always work as expected

Researchers were seeking to create a strain of wheat that would deter aphids. The idea was to create a strain of wheat that produced an odor the insects would find unattractive. The genetically modified crop was nicknamed “whiffy wheat” by the science group. The anti-aphid chemical added to the genome of the wheat was one that smelled a little like peppermint, which is a scent that aphids do not much care for.

Laboratory studies showed the wheat was successful, according to the BBC. When aphids came near, they were deterred from climbing onto the crop. However, when the wheat was used in the field, the results were not successful and aphids infestation sometimes occurred. The trial took place at Rothamsted Research, in the U.K.

Aphids are sometimes called plant lice, greenflies, blackflies, or whiteflies. They are highly destructive to many types of plants, literally eating away at the plant matter.

In a research note, Professor Huw Jones, the senior molecular biologist at Rothamsted Research, noted: “As scientists we are trained to treat our experimental data objectively and dispassionately but I was definitely disappointed. We had hoped that this technique would offer a way to reduce the use of insecticides in pest control in arable farming. As so often happens, this experiment shows that the real world environment is much more complicated than the laboratory.”

The trial was expensive, costing £732,000 ($1.15 million) to set up and a further £444,000 ($700,000) to keep the area where the crops were located secure. Security was in place for a number of reasons: to ensure that the wheat did not contaminate other areas; to protect the crops from animals; and to keep protesters at bay. The genetically modified food experiment proved controversial with environmental groups when it began.

The study has been written up in the journal Scientific Reports. The paper is titled “The first crop plant genetically engineered to release an insect pheromone for defence.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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