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'Whiffy' wheat 'new pest control'

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Scientists have added a peppermint gene to wheat which could ward off aphids

Scientists have added a peppermint gene to wheat which could ward off aphids

Scientists have added a peppermint gene to wheat which could ward off aphids

A peppermint gene has been used to engineer a "whiffy" wheat strain that scares off aphid pests.

The British advance is described as a "world first" with far-reaching potential for farming.

In future, it may be possible to cut the use of pesticides on plants modified with the gene.

Scientists also say the change made to the wheat is more natural than other forms of genetic modification.

It harnesses one of the plant world's own defence mechanisms, the ability to ward off pests with pheromone odour signals.

Peppermint produces a smell, undetectable to humans, which mimics an alarm signal generated by aphids when they are attacked by predators. This helps deter the insects, which suck sugar out of plants and cause global crop damage costing billions of pounds each year.

The British scientists took the peppermint gene responsible and inserted it into the DNA of a spring wheat strain. They ensured the pheromone signal was "pure" so that aphids would recognise it as their own.

Eight test plots of the wheat, measuring six metres square, are now growing at the Rothamsted Research agricultural institute in Hertfordshire.

Speaking at a news briefing in London, Professor John Pickett, head of chemical ecology at Rothamsted Research, said: "We are providing a totally new way of controlling pests that doesn't rely on toxic modes of action, and it's a UK first."

He hoped that in time the technology would benefit the farming community and produce a saleable product.

PA Media