By Paul Bentley
Coming soon, the wheat revolution: Scientists DNA breakthrough paves the way for cheaper bread
British scientists have cracked the genetic code for wheat – paving the way for a new breed of crops resistant to disease.
The experts will today share the map of the wheat genome online for free, allowing growers around the world to develop super strains of the crop.
The development could also lead to massively increased production – and in turn lower bread prices.
But last night there were fears the breakthrough could open the doors to genetically modified ‘Frankenstein foods’ as scientists will now be able to manipulate the wheat DNA.
The mapped genome will also allow growers to identify weaknesses, filtering out poor quality seeds.
It is hoped new breeds of crops will be producing higher wheat yields in as little as five years’ time.
This could mean a significant reduction in the price of bread and greater food security in the developing world.
It is estimated that world food production will have to increase by 50 per cent over the next 40 years to feed the rising population.
Wheat yield is also of particular concern this summer because of the failure of the harvest in Russia.
Professor Neil Hall, a genome scientist at Liverpool University – one of three research centres to carry out the study – said the breakthrough would increase wheat production dramatically.
Professor Keith Edwards, from Bristol University, said the findings were highly significant.
‘In a short space of time we have delivered most of the sequences necessary for plant breeders to identify genetic differences in wheat,’ he said.
The public release of the data will dramatically increase the efficiency of breeding new crop varieties.’
Over the past decade wheat yields have hit a plateau, failing to keep up with increased demand, largely because of constantly evolving diseases.
Professor Hall said: ‘It is estimated that in Europe, productivity needs to double to keep pace with demand and to maintain stable prices.
‘We need to start breeding new varieties of wheat that will be important in five or ten years’ time.’
But Professor Hall warned that ‘nature may not be enough’ and that ‘genetic modification will also be necessary to boost yields’.
The research project cost £1.8million and was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
‘Sequencing the human genome took 15 years . . . but with huge advances in DNA technology, the wheat genome took only a year,’ Professor Hall said.