UK scientists grow GM wheat that repels aphids

The Independent reported that the world’s first genetically modified crop that has been engineered to emit a repellent-smelling substance against insect pests is now growing in a small patch of land in the Hertfordshire countryside.

A peppermint gene has been used to engineer a wheat strain that sends out chemical messages to ward off aphid pests. The genetic modification harnesses one of the plant world’s own defence mechanisms, the ability to ward off pests with pheromone odour signals. Peppermint produces a smell, undetectable to humans, which mimics an alarm signal generated by aphids when they are attacked by predators.

Farmers currently have to use pesticides to protect their fields against aphids, which would otherwise destroy up to £120 million of wheat per year.

This crop is not a commercial crop, the idea eventually would be to produce GM wheat varieties that do not need to be sprayed with harmful pesticides. The scientists believe that preventing aphid infestations would benefit the wider environment, including the songbirds that feed on aphids.

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