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 67.

    GM crops that require less fertilizer and pestisides seem to be a good thing. Has a bee keeper anything that reduces the amount of pestisides used on plants is a good thing. I know that the evidence against neonicotinoids (especially Imidacloprid) is not proven or accepted. I do like to know where I can,what my bees are collecting and I never put them on rape seed oil plants although lots do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Just heard someone on BBC say there’s no chance of cross-contamination if GM crops are grown. Huh? So incoming bumblebee can tell the difference as he flies about from crops to flowers gathering pollen – and won’t help cross contamination? The eejit would have done better contributing funds to the NHS. Africa starves because of corrupt/greedy leaders snaffling food aid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Surely there’s a difference between genetic modification and selective breeding. The later encourages those traits that can or could occur naturally whereas the former splices in attributes that have no part in the original organism and could not occur naturally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    @8 I'm sure the people that benefit will be the consumer, if you take the human race to "the consumer". With an already over populated planet mass starvation is a real possibility unless we improve crop yields. I'm a scientist and I'm not currently sure if GM crops that don't require pesticide are a good idea, could effect the food chain more than we think. Bigger stronger plants yes please

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    The genetic manipulation industry reminds me of the Nuclear Industry

    It's safe every body !
    Don't worry !
    We're in control !
    It could never happen !
    A one in a million years probability !


    A bunch of monkeys playing with fire if you ask me
    ...and they'll do anything for a few extra bananas

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    as we are taking such a massive risk by playing at god and changing nature as it was intended, will we be seeing a loaf of bread which costs under £1? i dout it! this is all about maximising profits for the large agri science corporations who have no care for the enviroment or starving people in africa. amazing that we can achieve such science but is it necessary?we should just have less children

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    The fact that there is investment in UK science at a time of cutback is excellent. If you don't agree with the GM companies is one thing, but doing the research and guaranteeing UK jobs is another. Congratulations to the John Innes team.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Whatever you think of Bill Gates, the man is a shining example to all the megarich out there: you don't need all your money, put towards doing something that you believe in that'll benefit everyone if it pays off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    This is great news. GM technology has come on leaps and bounds in the past few decades and it's a shame the public's knowledge about the technology has not kept up. There are many different techniques to prevent gene escape (e.g. chloroplast DNA, male sterile plants). The main problem is with companies having a monopoly. This investment will help prevent that, just as the research at Rothamsted is

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    In India, a farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes due to the fact that they bought GM seeds to grow crops. These crops don't develop seeds themselves, so farmers are forced to buy more GM seed from the supplier the following year and they can't get out of the vicious cycle and get poorer and poorer. Good if it feeds people, bad if used by greedy corporations to squeeze the poor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    This is the opposite of Monsanto's GM seeds that are resistant to their own weedkiller. Unforseen by that are the superweeds adjacent to Monsanto farms that are now resistant to any weedkiller and threaten to destroy the crops.

    Long term testing is never done as profits need to be made quickly, so now they have to use MORE chemicals to deal with superweeds, negating the use of GM in the 1st place

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    "We've been genetically modifying crops (and animals) for years"

    This is disingenuous, patronising and plainly inaccurate! There is a world of difference (and potential consequences) between NATURAL breeding within a species and inter-species genetic engineering (e.g. taking DNA from a fish and splicing it into a tomato.)

    Cartesian hubris is matched only by the public's gullibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Any chance of a cold weather GM rice variety? Looks like we got the water supply sorted & it will be easier than trying to grow potatoes in a paddyfield

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Why don't 'they' do the GM experiments in Africa?

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    GM crops are an unnecessary risk and should not be allowed into the environment where they are bound to affect other plantlife.

    Not all GM need less pesticides, some are deliberately created to tolerate more.

    If one wishes to solve world hunger the solution is to have a smaller world population and not try to live in parts of the world which can not support people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    50.ShineHunter - " fertiliser that can be sold at the fraction of the cost to poor countries which would be safer and more logical."

    No, it wouldn't.

    Fertilizer & pesticides create a mass of pollution, both poisonous & global warming driving......muck the weather up any more & we won't be able to grow enough food anyway.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I very much welcome this research. For far too long has the shrill and ignorant anti-GM fundamentalists held Europe and by extension the rest of the world hostage to their stupidity. Why do we have to suffer from their tyrrany of denying vital research into GM crops for alleviating famine in the world? GM species are no different from dogs and carrots originating from wolf and wild carrot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Maybe the £6.4m can be used to invest in cheap fertiliser that can be sold at the fraction of the cost to poor countries which would be safer and more logical.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    The answer to global food shortages is to somehow radically reduce plague proportions of people. Modern farming methods (aggressive fertiliser / pesticide etc) and now GM will never address shortages long term, we'll simply outgrow the technology and further ruin the planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    To all GM optimists, I refer you to The World According to Monsanto, available on utube. Bill Gates is an instrument of US food export policy,GM is all about corporate control of the world seed stock, control the seed, control the food supply, control the people.See the experience of the Indian cotton growers, GM (not) helping the poor.Watch out sub Saharan farmers.


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