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 140.

    GM is about maximising profit not about production, intensive farming is unsustainable. GM scientists use the same rhetoric re pesticides in the 50’s. Promising everything when the result was environmental disasters, wildlife has not been the same since! GM will cross contaminate, create artificial ecosystems and consumers will still pay more! Don’t be fooled, forgot you already have been!

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    In the past I seem to remember farmers in some trials complaining that F1 seed from GM crops could not be used to grow the next years crop. This would mean poor farmers have to buy seed from the suppliers every year. This will not fight poverty in the 3rd world especially in years of failing crops. Science good. commercial ethics bad. This needs to be changed.

  • 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 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 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.


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