Scientific work at a Norwich research centre that could slash the cost of producing wheat in the UK has been backed by a £2.5m government grant.

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The work being carried out at the John Innes Centre in Colney will see a new strain of wheat developed that is less reliant on fertilisers to deliver strong crop yields.

The grant was part of a £20m funding package announced by the government yesterday to back research around the country into ‘synthetic biology’.

John Innes Centre associate research director Giles Oldroyd explained that his team had been studying how in nature some peas and beans allow certain bacteria to colonise their roots.

The microbes then help the plant to take the nitrogen it needs to grow from the air, whereas other crops like wheat rely on expensive fertilizers to fix their nitrogen.

Prof Oldroyd has been looking at how the peas and beans allow the bacteria into their roots, and researching whether a strain of wheat can be engineered that also has this capability.

He said: “We’ve been studying this for the last ten years; trying to understand how the peas and beans are recognising the bacteria and letting it colonise their roots. We are now ready to start transferring the gene to cereals.

“We are synthesising a new signalling capability that allows cereals to recognise the nitrogen fixing bacteria.”

He explained that the grant went “hand in hand“ with a £6.2m award received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation received earlier this year to fund similar research.

He added: “We currently use a lot of inorganic fertilisers, we spray the fields with them. But it has a high economic cost - half of the cost of producing wheat is on the purchase and application of fertilisers - there is a significant environmental cost too.

“We are trying to reduce dependence, without reducing the yield.”

The John Innes Centre and other organisations at the Norwich Research Park were also backed with £90m of government money earlier in May.

Ministers are currently drawing up a life sciences strategy, seeing the sector as a crucial potential driver of economic growth for the British economy.

Universities and science minister David Willetts said: “This investment is part of the Government’s commitment to making the UK a world leader in the research and application of synthetic biology. It will help to ensure that academics and industry can realise its full potential.”

15 comments

  • Presumably the wheat will utilise the fixed nitrogen to produce wheat gluten? Where does that leave coeliac disease sufferers? Or can the nature of the protein produced also be "GM`d"?

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    Mad Brewer

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

  • ta, master sergeant Ingo: no photos of you wrestling edl chaps to the ground?

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    martin wallis

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

  • Honest John: "Bill Gates has put a lot of money into Monsanto, just as he has vaccinations, because they reduce the population". Would you mind expanding upon that, please? How do Monsanto 'reduce the population'? And since when (and for what?) does the Gates foundation put money into Monsanto? This is why we need a 'new, balanced' debate on GMOs in agriculture... in the pages of the EDP. As promised...

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    martin wallis

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

  • Both the Foundation and Bill Gates own stock and profit financially from their partner corporations. In the second quarter of 2010, the Gates Foundation purchased 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock with an estimated worth of $23.1 million. Monsanto has a history marred by scandal, they were linked to bovine growth hormone, Aspartame, which was approved despite evidence linking it to potential health hazards, they manufactured the toxic insecticide DDT, and now they seek to replace sustainable agricultural practices with its own patented genetically engineered seeds, which must be re-purchased each planting season. Another partner is GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the same company that just plead guilty in the largest health fraud case in US history, linked to vaccines. Through their partnership with the Gates Foundation, GSK centrally controls enormous world funds for purchase, pricing, and delivery of vaccines for world public health. The Foundation also funds large media organizations like ABC and The Guardian, thereby influencing the health related stories that end up seeing the light of day. Uncritical support of genetically engineered crops and an emphasis on technological fixes for health problems, such as vaccines instead of improved hygiene and sanitation, are examples of the one-sided propaganda the Gates Foundation promulgates. A study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences in 2009 found that three of Monsanto's genetically engineered corn varieties caused organ damage. Gilles-Eric Séralini, a molecular biologist at the University of Caen and the study's lead author, stated: "[The data] clearly underlines adverse impacts on kidneys and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, as well as different levels of damages to heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system.” The biotech agriculture that Lord Sainsbury was unable to push through democratically he can now implement unilaterally, through his Gatsby Foundation. Gatsby's biotech project aims to provide food security for the global south. But if you listen to southern groups such as the Karnataka State Farmers of India, food security is precisely the reason they campaign against GM, because biotech crops are monocrops which are more vulnerable to disease and so need lashings of petrochemical pesticides, insecticides and fungicides – none of them cheap – and whose ruinous costs will rise with the price of oil, bankrupting small family farms first. Crop diseases mutate, meanwhile, and all the chemical inputs in the world can't stop disease wiping out whole harvests of genetically engineered single strands. Both the Gatsby and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundations are keen to get deeper into agriculture, especially in Africa. Monsanto and other biotech companies have collaborated with the Gates Foundation via the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to promote the use of genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa. The Gates Foundation has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to AGRA, and in 2006 Robert Horsch was hired for the AGRA project. Horsch was a Monsanto executive for 25 years. In a nutshell, the project may be sold under the banner of altruism and 'sustainability', but in reality it's anything but. It's just a multi-billion dollar enterprise to transform Africa into a GM-crop-friendly continent.

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    Honest John

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

  • It's no good growing these super crops that are devoid of nutrients; as is the case of much of the food produced today.

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    John L Norton

    Saturday, November 10, 2012

  • Both the Foundation and Bill Gates own stock and profit financially from their partner corporations. In the second quarter of 2010, the Gates Foundation purchased 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock with an estimated worth of $23.1 million. Monsanto has a history marred by scandal, they were linked to bovine growth hormone, Aspartame, which was approved despite evidence linking it to potential health hazards, they manufactured the toxic insecticide DDT, and now they seek to replace sustainable agricultural practices with its own patented genetically engineered seeds, which must be re-purchased each planting season. Another partner is GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the same company that just plead guilty in the largest health fraud case in US history, linked to vaccines. Through their partnership with the Gates Foundation, GSK centrally controls enormous world funds for purchase, pricing, and delivery of vaccines for world public health.

    Report this comment

    Honest John

    Monday, November 12, 2012

  • Honest John: I have that problem all the time...

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    martin wallis

    Monday, November 12, 2012

  • Honest John: I have that problem all the time...

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    martin wallis

    Monday, November 12, 2012

  • Martin Wallis, I have replied to you but the EDP have not printed my reply, I think it shows which side of the fence they sit on.

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    Honest John

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

  • I second Martin Wallis request for more information on Mr. Oldroyds sources, as well as for a and a balanced EDP debate on the benefits to farmers, multinationals and consumers. With almost no market for GM crops in the UK, this Government supported research will not benefit taxpayers and consumers who put up the money, but multinationals who's social responsibility is limited to their staff, if at all. John Innes is one of the best funded research institutes in the country, although their value for money returns are poor.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Saturday, November 10, 2012

  • John L Norton: 'devoid of nutrients'? don't be daft, you silly old sausage: Prof Oldroyd's N-fixing wheat would be as nutritious as any other non-organic wheat: the difference is that it would supply its own nitrogenous fertiliser by fixing atmospheric N in the soil through the action of bacteria attached to root nodules, just like peas and beans do now. My issue with this is the worry that the seeds and agrochemicals multinationals will get their sticky fingers on it. The research grant from the Gates foundation was awarded on condition that smallholder farmers in developing countries do not have to pay patent fees (intellectual property rights): I wonder if this new tranche of funding for the same research carries the same caveat? I also wonder when the EDP is going to live up to its promise of being 'fair, balanced and objective at all times', and call for papers (articles) which offer the readers peer-reviewed scientific material which raises questions about the benefits of GM generally in the pursuit of global food security. Futhermore, there is an informed body of scientific opinion which will have been underwhelmed by Prof Tim Benton (Global food security champion) blithely describing GM research as 'shoving a few genes around': there is growing empirical evidence worldwide of 'unforeseen' problems arising from herbicide resistant (RR) crops and bt crops: In addition, there are genuine question marks about how Prof Oldroyd's labtrial plot results may be transferred successfully to smallholder farmers fields in developing countries - I am waiting for the EDP to publish an article (in preparation, I hope?) by Dr Shawn McGuire (UEA) an acknowledged expert in the lab-to-farmer field. Most developing country farmers don't grow wheat: their staple crops (in zones where the soils are poor and the rainfall light and unreliable) are sorghums and millets. Will this new cereal N-fixing research be extended to these crops? Finally, I am also waiting for Prof Oldroyd to respond to my request to send me the internet links to documentation which he states is widely available and which illustrates the uptake of GM by 'peasant' farmers worldwide. I've yet to find it!

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    martin wallis

    Saturday, November 10, 2012

  • Honest John: there is strictly no justification for the food industry to refuse to label their produce 'contains GM'. But where would they start? GM soya is fed to poultry, GM maize to beef cattle... meat needs to be labelled too! Not to mention the countless food products on sale in supermarkets which contain traces of GM soya...?

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    martin wallis

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

  • Make?? Grow, farm. But "make"? It`s a great idea to introduce these nitrogen fixing cereals. All that lovely PROTEIN, Norton. NUTRIENT. All that lovely NITROGEN in the atmosphere, about 80% of it. Roy A.L.Enfield.

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    Mad Brewer

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

  • Buy your food from one of the big supermarkets - they get the pick of the crop . Eat a balanced diet , no hydrogenated fat or anything with high fructose corn syrup added . Take a multi vitamin tablet every day.... combine that with walking instead of using a car , and you`ll live to be a hundred .

    Report this comment

    dragonfly

    Saturday, November 10, 2012

  • Why not mention this is GM research, why hide under 'synthetic biology'? Monsanto and all the companies which use GM foods, put up $37million to fight Proposition 37 in California, which was for the right to state food contained GM ingredients. Why are they so against people knowing what is in their food, if all is well? The recent horrific findings from the French study, showing massive tumours in rats fed GM food, has seen many European countries refusing to allow GM research, Russia has banned it following the study, Americans are up in arms, Indian farmers committing suicide, and good old UK sell out to the big bucks. Bill Gates has put a lot of money into Monsanto, just as he has vaccinations, because they reduce the population, GM seeds include Agent Orange used to wipe out vegetation in Vietnam, and cause sterility. This is nothing but corporate greed and John Innes should be ashamed of themselves for selling out, so too the UK government who are once again refusing to look after the interests of its population.

    Report this comment

    Honest John

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

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