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 47.

    Mattmatt81 @32

    Apologies I meant to say reducing population GROWTH

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Makes you shudder when you imagine what the military applications are from this research

    The genetic structure of food manipulated by large multinational organisations with no oversight

    Glad I'm old

    The Evil will definitely Inherit this earth

    AIDS "appeared from nowhere" in the 1950s around the Belgian Congo...
    ...from an area where a rejected WHO TB vaccine was being tested

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    We already eat GM food. Plant breeding techniques have used chemicals to cause mutations in plants for decades - and the most useful mutations are found and grown. GM science is probably the only funded activity that will ensure what we are already eating is safe. So yes this is good news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    So - all very altruistic - or are they going to do the same as Monsanto and make the plants sterile so that African farmers cannot save seed and have to buy fresh, increasingly expensive seed every year?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I would rather trust , ( any day of the week) those in the know , who have no axe to grind ( or profit to make ) who have the integrity and guts to try and bring this to our attention , because they recognise a danger . Than I ever would, some giant (profit making) International company telling me they need to do it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    If Bill Gates had concentrated on what he's good at instead of trying to save the world, perhaps windows Vista wouldn't have been such a disaster!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Just stupidity, complete money making scam, and now the UK has become part of it. Gates recently acquired 500,000 shares in Monsanto. Governments march blindly on supporting this dangerous scheme.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    There is a lack of scientific understanding in the UK. Decisions around important issues like GM seem to be based on scaremongering rather than hard facts. Scientists are not even allowed to test the safety of the crops to generate the data, due tot he destruction of trials. As a country we should aim to be at the forefront of scientific discovery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    The clue is in the words "genetically modified" being placed next to the word "food". The scientist will ramble on about evidence and progress, citing gains in the diagnosis and treatment of illness, regarding the rest of us as a bunch of ignorant plebs. I just think of Bhopal, Hiroshima, Thalidomide and whole bunch of other scientific disasters and let common sense do the rest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Thats we stand up for our rights damn it!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Another thing.....if you think about it dogs are like a 'GM wolf'.....and most us like dogs....I've seen the research which transformed wolves into dogs, they select the most desirable features from certain wolves and breed them, after many generations they appear less 'wolf-like' and are naturally friendlier to humans. Very basic obviously, but the principles are similar for modern day wheat etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    billynano (Number 15)

    I once heard a bloke complaining about food additives, he was reading from a label & exclaimed "It's even got ASCORBIC ACID in it!"

    Your comment comes a close second.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    GM to produce plants that are resistant to pesticides and
    herbicides, ie to maximise the sale of toxic chemicals is not acceptable. However GM to produce plants that don't need pesticides or that need less fertilizer is good, that is something interesting and worth supporting, it follows the traditional path of plant breeding, to produce more efficient food plants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I am probably already eating the stuff, will I ever get a choice? Nobody will be able to tell whats GM and what's not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    GM is ok, providing it is not transgenic (Plant to Animal, etc) as.The problems occur when the research is abused for Warfare and in risky uncontrolled laboratories, we can only shudder to guess what the worlds military are up to.... So helping feed the world has to be a more noble aim. But the money would be better spent on encouraging better government in these countries, and stopping conflicts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I do not trust gm crops . The potential risks are huge .
    But the risk of population outstripping food supply is much greater .

    Rather invasive OSR than mass famines .

    Maybe reducing population should be the priority .

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Ignorant posters who have never faced a real food shortage trotting out anti GM nonsense. The poster who advocates teaching the developing world about birth control rather then helping feed them should be particularly ashamed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I deplore this development. GM technology is indeed the dangerous genie we do not want to let out of the bottle. It has huge potential for untold, irreversible environmental damage & depletion of biodiversity.

    #23 To me this comment is disingenuous and trying to muddy the waters between genetic modification (bad, potentially dangerous) and selective breeding, wholly acceptable & normal practice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    GM food would be fine if anyone actually wanted to buy it or they could control the spread of its knock on effect!
    But we don't and they can't!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Ever since we started farming crops and animals we have been genetically modifying them. Look around and you'll see that none of what we eat is to be found in the wild. Traditionally we achieved it by forcing mother and sons and brothers and sisters to mate over and over again until we ram together the genes we want through inbreeding. GM will move us beyond this painful and inefficient process


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