InterGrain chief executive Tress Walmsley says technologies such as gene editing will be important for facing global challenges. (Photo: Evan Collis)

(May 14, 2024) - Marking the two-year anniversary of a research partnership with Inari, a U.S.-based company that leverages artificial intelligence and gene editing technology, InterGrain has reported it is growing its first gene-edited wheat lines at the University of Western Australia’s research facilities this year.

“Agriculture and, importantly, the world need technologies like gene editing. We’re facing some large global challenges like food security, a growing population, sustainability and climate change,” says InterGrain chief executive Tress Walmsley.

The InterGrain and Inari collaborative research partnership aims to dramatically improve the yield potential of wheat in the face of an increasingly variable climate. At the time the collaboration was launched, InterGrain and Inari announced a target of a 10 to 15 per cent increase in wheat yield potential, in addition to more efficient use of inputs.

“The power of new breeding techniques is that, for the first time, we can now exponentially accelerate natural breeding outcomes that address food system sustainability – helping to ensure food security for a rapidly growing global population, better caring for our planet with higher-yielding, game-changing seeds that require fewer inputs, and improving farmer well-being through economically sustainable solutions,” says Inari chief executive Ponsi Trivisvavet.

Major advances for GM wheat and bananas

The University of Adelaide is seeking to trial new varieties of wheat and barley capable of withstanding environmental stress and improving yield. The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) is inviting comments on these proposed field trials.

The varieties rely on techniques introducing genes from other plants – one that is commonly used as a model plant in research and two that are common food crops – and the removal of naturally occurring genes in wheat and barley. The introduced or knocked-out genes are expected to enable the plants to survive periods of drought without affecting yields.

In other regulatory news, Australia’s first genetically modified fruit, a banana, is a step closer to commercial reality as Queensland scientists have received regulatory approval to release a GM variety of the Cavendish banana for human consumption.

It is unlikely the GM bananas will be in the supermarket soon, as the GM variety will be considered a back-up option in the fight against Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4). The GM bananas are nearly immune to the disease.

Gene editing wheat for boosted yields and rust resistance

Chinese researchers have used CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tools in wheat to improve rust resistance and yield. Their findings offer germplasm resources that can be used in breeding programs for high-yielding plants with high levels of rust resistance.

Scientists studied the role of a negative regulator of plant immunity, MAP kinase phosphatase 1 (MKP1), in wheat against two fungal pathogens. The team used CRISPR-Cas9 to knock down MKP1, which boosted the wheat’s resistance to rust and powdery mildew. When compared to wild-type control plants, the mutated plants also had higher yields.

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