Feeding the Future
GM Wheat Promises “Super” Yields

The British government is rolling out test crops of a new strain of genetically modified wheat that has the potential to increase yields by as much as 40 percent. The BBC reports:

This latest effort aims to see if the spectacular gains in productivity of 20-40% in GM wheat grown in the greenhouse can be reproduced in the open air. […]

The researchers say they want to test newly developed wheat plants that have been modified to carry a gene from a wild relative called stiff brome. The Rothamsted team, which is working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Essex and Lancaster University, believes this enables the modified wheat to carry out photosynthesis more efficiently, converting more sunlight and CO2 into grain.

There are two things worth noting in this case. First, the new GM wheat being planted in British fields shouldn’t be thought of as some “unnatural,” entirely man-made crop variety. The increased yields scientists hope it will produce are the result of the inclusion of a gene found in a specific kind of wild grass. Just as farmers have been cross-breeding crops for centuries to pull out the most desired traits for human consumption, so too are GM researchers looking to use genes from certain crops to help boost yields and increase resiliency in the face of pesticides, drought, or flooding. This is not the sort of wild departure from previous forms of agriculture that environmentalists love to portray it.

Secondly, and more importantly, this could increase crop productivity by as much as 40 percent. That’s an enormous jump, and it represents one of humanity’s most important tools at hand to help protect global food security on a more crowded planet. Greens spend so much time reminding people of the myriad challenges climate change is going to bring about for future generations, but they’re quick to snub promising solutions—like GM crops—to these selfsame problems. We’re not blind to the potential of these new crops, however, and it’s encouraging to see their deployment moving ahead in the UK.

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