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 127.

    The excessive use of pesticides/herbicides is what is destroying the bee population. This push for GM is about getting control of food production into the hands of a powerful few. Small farms will be pushed out of existance as corporations take over. This will happen in places like Africa as well as poor quality land becomes profitable the peasants shall be forced off to make way for the rich.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    So why didn't the Gates Foundation arrange for the research to be carried out in the US?

    It's called hedging your bets

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    I wish them every success; this is a real step forward in helping poorer countries eradicate hunger by growing crops that need no fertilizer. Yes, it will take a long time but it will be worth it in the end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    The latest weather reports world-wide show the extremely urgent need for science to come to our aid. The navel-gazing "antis" who would rather the poorer nations starve, rather than betray their "moral" position, need to accept the production of wheat, for example, is falling and the price rising. If we can do without pesticides by manipulating a gene, then everyone benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Monsanto have been trying to get GM into europe for years. This is just another back-door attempt dressed up as philanthropy. This experiment could have been conducted in the US - so why locate it in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    @117 Kerr

    Although when you accelerate an otherwise natural process you also accelerate its ramifications. It's not guaranteed to always have positive outcomes. And the terminator gene benefits no one but the supplier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Just another tactic in the super rich taking control of the population.

    Non-GM crop producers will be 'cartelled' out of business and a few 'people' will control all the resources on the planet.

    Governments are becoming weaker and controlled by the rich.

    The super-rich must go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    If the farmers can't afford fertiliser, they certainly can't afford the hybridised seed this project will produce, and the plants will probably produce sterile seed, so the farmers can't replant with saved seed - making them slaves to the seed companies. Nice.

    There's no such thing as a free lunch. Ask Bill Gates. The Gates Foundation is just saving the multi-nationals their research costs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    We already have plants that do not require fertilizers and pesticides. They grow very happily in my garden with a good dose of compost. Nature did not provide for us in past millenia by using Monsanto's NPK fertilisers, just the previous year's decaying leaf litter and animal droppings.. why mess with a good thing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    It's naiive to think we can understand the effects GM crops on ecosystems within a few years of testing, it would take many lifetimes. We could be researching sustainable agriculture with this money, nitrogen fixing crops can be interplanted with cereals to feed them. Money is the interest here. GM seed can be patented, therefore farmers can't seed save, they become reliant. Think for yourselves!

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    To all those who are crops, what food do you eat now? Orange carrots? Corn? I think you will find these plants have already been Genetically modified from their original form from years of selective breeding. GM just means we can make changes in months not centuries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    The John Innes centre is a private Organisation
    Bill Gates made his fortune from one of the most aggressively controlling corporations the world has ever seen - a private enterprise.
    Monsanto is a private corporation intent on dominating it's worldwide market.

    Recent events has thought us the private enterprise is always best -
    Hasn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    The more money given to research that helps good health the better. Scrutiny of that research to ensure it is ethical must be maintained as it could be open to abuse. However the effects of inventions of any kind can only be measured in retrospect. Who could have forseen the present day results of research in electro engineering pre Gates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Just type 'Superweed' into Google.

    My comment earlier was marked down for highlighting that long term testing on GM seeds was not done and the result is superweeds.

    The corporate shills are out in force, marking down comments that highlight the negative side of GM. Any scientist who ignores all the data to promote his paymaster's product is a disgrace to science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    If you want to eat GM wheat etc thats obviously your choice alot of us would like the choice not to eat it something which these GM companies in the USA have denied the consumer by mixing it in with ordinary wheat precisely because they knew people wouldnt buy it. This isnt about helping the third world etc its about money as always.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    British GM crop scientists win $10m grant from Gates

    good for them
    this type of work needs to get all the funding it needs if we are to continue to feed the world , were on a knife edge at the moment,a few more natural disasters in the main food producers counties and Africa will not be the only place to feel famine

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Too many people. This is just another twist of the Malthusian wheel. GM stops people starving all over the World and they breed, so in a few years we need another fix for starvation.
    Meanwhile there is no short term GM fix for new water, soil, minerals, timber or the natural environment with a maximised population. So life gets worse for us all.
    GM yes, but only with population control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Bill Gates is a control freak in nerds clothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    If Gates was a real philanthropist he wouldn't have denied so many millions of people access to his software (due to over pricing) when Windows monopolised markets. His business model denied millions the opportunity to get themselves out of poverty while he and his like entered the realm of the obscenely wealthy.

    Gates' obscene wealth is what keeps parts of the World in famine.

    Eat the Rich.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    I'm certainly not anti science but this path is without doubt wide open to future serious abuse if populations are to become fully dependent on these types of crops!


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