UK researchers develop new `superwheat'

A new type of wheat developed by British scientists promises to increase yields by 30 per cent. Researchers at the University of Cambridge developed the new wheat variety by transferring the embryo of an ancient ancestor of wheat into a modern wheat seed.

WheatAccording to Dr Phil Howell, from the UK's National Institute of Agriculture and Botany, the findings had even surprised the scientists.

The researchers expected outcomes like improved disease resistance and perhaps some drought tolerance, he added.

He said what came as a great surprise and was really pleasing was that one of these yielded 30 per cent more than its conventional parent.

The new variety, which was not genetically modified, would be commercially available in about five years.

The process of producing the synthetic 'superwheat' was similar to selective breeding and did not use genetic-modification.

The development would also be good for the consumer, with increased production promising to keep down prices for bread, biscuits and pasta.

The UK would emerge as a net wheat importer, for the first time in over a decade following the terrible weather last year. Farmers fear continuation of the trend due to planting difficulties and seed shortages.

Meanwhile, McVitie's Digestives would no longer carry a logo stating the biscuits contained '100 per cent British Wheat' due to sourcing difficulties and Hovis and Weetabix would also need to drop their sourcing pledges.

According to Dr Tina Barsby, chief executive and director of NIAB, it was about finding novel characteristics from the original ancestors of wheat and breeding them to make them as productive and resilient as possible.

The technique involved breeding selected species of wheat and grass, with no involvement of GM-technology, she added.

She said one could become too focused on one technology like GM and not look at other techniques that could bring similar success.

Over the next 50 years, the world would need to grow more wheat than had been produced in the 10,000 years since agriculture began.

According to National Farmers Union (NFU) president Peter Kendall, increased production would help to keep down future prices.

He said this was about increasing resilience and self-reliance.