Trials start of GM wheat that terrifies aphids

LONDON,  (Reuters) – Field trials are under way in England of a genetically modified (GM) wheat that strikes fear into aphids and attracts a deadly predator to devour them, providing an alternative to the insecticides now used to control the crop pest.

The wheat emits a pheromone which aphids release when they are under attack to create panic and prompt the insects to flee, John Pickett, scientific leader of chemical ecology at Rothamsted Research in eastern England, said yesterday.

It also attracts tiny parasitoid wasps to provide a second line of defence for crops by laying eggs in the aphids.

“(It) eats the aphids from the inside out so it takes out the population on the crop,” Pickett said.

“We are providing a totally new way of controlling the pests that doesn’t rely on toxic modes of action,” he told a media briefing.

The wheat has been modified using a gene found in peppermint plants, he added, although the smell was more like Granny Smith apples and too faint to be detected by humans.

Pickett said the field trials, at Rothamsted’s research facility in Hertfordshire, used a spring planted variety of the wheat cultivar Cadenza.

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