Via Financial Times : Chemical technology tipped to boost wheat yieldscould potentially increase by 20%
Technique may provide an alternative to genetic modification
New chemical technology could increase wheat crop yields by up to 20 per cent and help feed the world’s growing population.
Scientists based at Rothamsted Research in the UK said they had been able to increase the size of wheat grains by one-fifth through the use of a sugar known as trehalose 6-phosphate (T6P).
This is a naturally-occurring sugar that controls the way wheat uses sucrose for its development. In a paper published in the journal Nature, the scientists said they had developed a synthetic version of T6P.
When this was sprayed on to growing wheat plants, it led to more sucrose — which is crucial to the development of wheat grains — being drawn into the plant, making bigger crops.
The technique draws on a combination of chemistry and biology in its application to plants. Dr Matthew Paul, senior scientist at Rothamsted and co-author of the paper, said it was “a first-of-its-kind strategy that uses chemistry to modify how sugars are used by plants”.
The study was “a proof of concept, showing us that it is possible to influence how plants use the fuel they produce for agricultural benefit, both in terms of yield and also resilience to drier conditions”, Dr Paul said. “The next stage of work is to replicate this experiment as much as possible in the field in different environments.”
If the technique proves to be successful it would provide an alternative to using genetic modification to boost crop yields. Genetic modification is an accepted technique in most parts of the world but has run into opposition in Europe where GMO produce is dubbed “Frankenfood” by environmentalists.
The world’s population is projected to increase from 7.4bn to 8.1bn in 2025, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UN-affiliated body. It has forecast that 80 per cent of the increase needed in crop production will come from higher yields because of the limited scope to turn more land over to agricultural use.
Professor Ben Davis of the Department of Chemistry at Oxford university, which provided the chemical expertise for the research, said: “The tests we conducted in the lab show real promise for a technique that, in the future, could radically alter how we farm not just wheat but many different crops.”
The test also indicated that the technique could boost plants’ ability to recover from drought — a finding that could potentially help farmers to overcome dry seasons more easily.
The research was funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.