LONDON, March 28 Field trials are under way in
England of a genetically modified (GM) wheat that strikes fear
into aphids and attracts a deadly predator to devour them,
providing an alternative to the insecticides now used to control
the crop pest.
The wheat emits a pheromone which aphids release when they
are under attack to create panic and prompt the insects to flee,
John Pickett, scientific leader of chemical ecology at
Rothamsted Research in eastern England, said on Wednesday.
It also attracts tiny parasitoid wasps to provide a second
line of defence for crops by laying eggs in the aphids.
"(It) eats the aphids from the inside out so it takes out
the population on the crop," Pickett said.
"We are providing a totally new way of controlling the
pests that doesn't rely on toxic modes of action," he told a
The wheat has been modified using a gene found in peppermint
plants, he added, although the smell was more like Granny Smith
apples and too faint to be detected by humans.
Pickett said the field trials, at Rothamsted's research
facility in Hertfordshire, used a spring planted variety of the
wheat cultivar Cadenza.
He said the approach could eventually be used to protect
other crops and flowers from aphids.
There are no other GM wheat trials currently being conducted
in Britain although there are two involving GM potatoes.
Pete Riley, campaign director for campaign group GM Freeze,
which opposes use of genetically modified organisms (GMO), said
he had several concerns and believed there were better
alternatives for controlling aphids.
"There are natural alternatives with which, if you design
your farm right with plenty of cover and food for predators and
parasitic wasps, you can control aphids pretty effectively and
that has been demonstrated in the UK," he said.
"We don't see any need for this technology other than it is
potentially more profitable to do GM than to tell farmers how to
create the right habitats on their farms," he added.
Riley said that if the new wheat was produced commercially
it could contaminate non-GMO varieties. He also questioned its
"We feel it is likely, if it is used very widely, that
aphids would eventually get habituated to the chemical and not
take any notice of it," he said.
(Reporting by Nigel Hunt; Editing by Anthony Barker)