Hardy wheat

Egypt's first GM crop

Published: Tuesday 30 November 2004

wheat growers may no longer worry about drought, with scientists from Egypt's Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (ageri) evolving a drought-resistant variety of the crop. The development will reduce the number of irrigation cycles required per growing season from eight to one. Moreover, the wheat can be cultivated with only rainwater in some desert areas.

Just 38 per cent of Egypt's demand for wheat is met domestically -- the country's limited water supply means only a small chunk of the fertile land can be cultivated. Thus finding a way out was considered imperative. The ageri researchers discovered that by transferring a gene called hvai1 from barley to a local wheat variety, the latter could survive in low water level conditions. The genetically modified (gm) wheat was tested in fields during three growing seasons, from 2001 to 2003. The researchers compared the growth of the gm wheat with that of a local variety under normal rainfall conditions (without irrigation). The gm plants were found to be taller and had higher yields than the non-modified plants.

As per the team, boosting the plants' ability to deal with the water stress might even help them face other environmental stresses like salinity or high temperatures. The ageri team hopes to address biosafety issues in order to commercialise the transgenic wheat as the first gm crop of Egypt.

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