Biotech Updates

Iron-rich GM Wheat Set to Undergo Field Trials

May 22, 2019

The John Innes Centre got the green light from the UK government to perform field trials of genetically modified (GM) wheat biofortified to produce high-iron white flour. The three-year field trial (from 2019 to 2022) will be carried out under confined conditions at the Centre between April and September each year.

Using genetic engineering, the researchers were able to transport one gene and activate it in the endosperm section which is the central part of the wheat seed. The endosperm is responsible for the production of white flour and normally has low iron content. At present, white flour is fortified with iron powder or iron salts to regulation levels of 16.5 micrograms per gram. Should the field trials go smoothly, it is expected to produce a new variety of wheat with increased iron content of 20 micrograms per gram. 

According to Janneke Balk, project leader at the John Innes Centre, the team prioritized the development of white flour to encourage people to eat wholemeal products. "By producing high-iron white flour we can reach more people and make the biggest impact on public health," he added. Since it is a publicly-owned project, breeders and farmers can openly access and use the crop, subject to GM regulations. 

For more information, read the news article from John Innes Centre.