British GM crop scientists win $10m grant from Gates

Corn crops Poorer farmers in Africa cannot afford agricultural fertiliser for their crops

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A team of British plant scientists has won a $10m (£6.4m) grant from the Gates Foundation to develop GM cereal crops.

It is one of the largest single investments into GM in the UK and will be used to cultivate corn, wheat and rice that need little or no fertiliser.

It comes at a time when bio-tech researchers are trying to allay public fears over genetic modification.

The work at the John Innes Centre in Norwich is hoped to benefit African farmers who cannot afford fertiliser.

Agricultural fertiliser is important for crop production across the globe.

But the many of the poorest farmers cannot afford fertiliser - and it is responsible for large greenhouse gas emissions.

The John Innes Centre is trying to engineer cereal crops that could get nitrogen from the air - as peas and beans do - rather than needing chemical ammonia spread on fields.

If successful, it is hoped the project could revolutionise agriculture and, in particular, help struggling maize farmers in sub-Saharan Africa - something the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is keen to do.

'Major problems'

Professor Giles Oldroyd from the John Innes Centre, who is leading the team, said the project was vital for poorer producers and could have a "huge impact" on global agriculture.

"We believe if we can get nitron fixing cereals we can deliver much higher yields to farmers in Africa and allow them to grow enough food for themselves."

However, opponents of GM crops say results will not be achieved for decades at best, and global food shortages could be addressed now through improving distribution and cutting waste.

Pete Riley, campaign director of the group GM Freeze, said there was a realisation by many farmers across the world that "GM is failing to deliver".

"If you look in America, yields haven't increased by any significant amount and often go down," he said.

He added: "Now we're seeing real, major problems for farmers in terms of weeds that are resistant to the herbicides which GM crops have been modified to tolerate."

See more on this story on BBC One's Countryfile at 20:00 BST on Sunday 15 July


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  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    These plants, because of their attributes, are capable of becoming extremely invasive and intractable weeds.

    In particular, those engineered to be immune to Monsanto's patent weedkillers, (so the latter can be used freely among them).

    This is now a problem with "wild" GM OSR in Canada.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    400 characters to put forward a comment about something that needs some explaining is plain silly. An indirect regulator of comments about GM. Should it really be down to charities and individuals to save the world without involving greed or any other vice. The claim to know 'enough' about GM so as to release it into the world when it is VERY clear it can't be withdrawn once done is monkey like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    im very for GM food. whilst it is possible to make mistakes, they arent idiots. The whole point of testing it is to verify the results of modification, and we can only learn how to better do it, through practice. GM crops are already widely used in parts of Africa, to create more food in dryer climates, and thanks to them, harvests can yield much more badly needed food than contemporary crops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    This ihas the potential to be a Pandora's Box " type scenario ,which could unleash horrors unknown and my own gut feeling is, that we should leave well alone !

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Some extremely uninformed and ignorant comments on here. Maybe people should think why we have seedless grapes? Why wheat production is much more efficient and successful now? Why bananas have such tiny seeds? Why carrots are orange? 'GM' foods are all around us and have been for generations. This research speeds up this improvement process and will benefit mankind in the long-term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    GM food is all about maximising profit and not the welfare of human beings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I really hope that the ethics of the UK and the Gates Foundation...

    The Gates Foundation was created to dodge 50% tax on asset disposals which would have gone towards society instead of a private family cabal

    UK ethics?
    You mean our poor-people and environment loving Tories??

    Ethics are irrelevant in this case
    (apart from that "ethics mission statement" stuff they all excrete)

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    re;5 What worries me is the ignorance of the pundits and gainsayers. If we followed their advice we would not even have crop rotation, let alone the high yields current for wheat, etc. This research is simply one more step on a well worn path. Lets see the results before we condemn the research.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Although this may not be comparable to that epitome of corporate evil Monsanto, it is still unnecessary experimentation to produce a product that is not wanted in Europe.

    No doubt apologists will appear on the thread arguing that we need GM crops to feed the starving, but the reality is that biotech companies are in business for one reason only : profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    GM crops should not be allowed, definitely. They are only in the interests of corporations after huge profits from poor farmers.

    People don't protest unless they have a reason!

    I wonder if this will push more of us towards either growing our own food or buying organic? I, for one, always buy organic milk and dairy products and will now take that further.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    If the Gates foundation is promoting GM foods, is Microsoft therefore taking the same point of view?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    This isn't about poor farmer not being able to fertilise, This is about the corporate take over of global food supply in the end. GM is an obscene abomination of nature.

    Why don't they label GM foods? give the consumer the choice then see who buys it?

    These people are EVIL.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    "The John Innes Centre is trying to engineer cereal crops that could get nitrogen from the air - as peas and beans do - rather than needing chemical ammonia spread on fields."

    Ammonia or no ammonia. I know how I would prefer my food to be produced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Big money will bully its way to what it wants in the end. Patented food.

    We have seen troubles from even simple interference in natural eco systems. Introducing the benign looking little rabbit to Australia. What testing would not have cleared them as 'safe'?

    Suppose we let GM foods happen and support a vast population, when anything goes wrong it will be even more catastrophic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Science and its 'proof' can be bought too easily with little or no redress ... here in 2012!
    The structure of living organisms is far more complex than the scientists know or can agree on. But one things for SURE, USING a terrible and AVOIDABLE disaster to promote GM is disgusting. The short term effect might appear fine but if you haven't been bitten by fame and fortune you DO see THE TRUTH.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Let's hope that the scientists at the John Innes Centre have rather more integrity than their Climate Change colleagues round the corner at the UEA who were happy to 'edit' their results to ensure that the grant money kept flowing in...

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    GM food should not be allowed .

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.


    ",,,See what's happened to Indian farmers who were persuaded to buy GM seeds-not a good example?..."


    Indeed. In the longer term and broader view also, is it wise to have large populations entirely dependent on monocultures for their survival, viz Irish Potato Famine?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Problem: People think GM is bad
    Reality: We've done it with horses over hundreds of years
    Why: We are heading towards 9bil people, though we currently farm on 97% of the world's usable farm land. Where will be get the extra food from? We have to increase yields or the land we can use, or people will starve. GM is the only way to do that. Unfortunately, the EU is extremely against GM food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Whoever profits from it, it certainly won't be us, the consumer.


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