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Checkbiotech: Egyptian scientists produce drought-tolerant GM wheat
Posted by: DR. RAUPP & madora (IP Logged)
Date: October 18, 2004 07:30AM ;

Scientists in Egypt have produced drought-tolerant wheat by transferring a
gene from barley into a local wheat variety, October 2004 by Wagdy Sawahel .

The researchers, at Cairo's Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research
Institute (AGERI), say their technique reduces the number of irrigations
needed from eight to one, and that the wheat could be cultivated with
rainfall alone in some desert areas.

The AGERI team hope to develop their technique and address biosafety issues
in order to commercialise the transgenic wheat seeds as the first
genetically modified (GM) product on the Egyptian market.

The research findings, which have been accepted for publication in the
journal Physiologia Plantarum, were presented last month at a symposium on
applied biotechnology in Egypt organised by AGERI and the Egyptian Centre
for Biotechnology Information.

Water stress caused by drought is a major factor limiting plant growth and
crop productivity worldwide. The researchers showed that by transferring a
gene called 'HVAI1' from barley to wheat, the plants could tolerate low
water levels for longer before their leaves wilted.

Following laboratory tests, the GM wheat was tested in greenhouse and field
trials. The field trials were conducted for three seasons, starting in

During the 2002-2003 season, Ahmed Bahieldin, the plant geneticist who led
the research, and his colleagues compared the growth of the GM wheat and a
local variety under normal rainfall conditions, without irrigation. The GM
plants were taller and had higher yields than the non-modified plants.

"Now we are transferring the gene for drought tolerance to other local wheat
varieties using traditional plant breeding programmes," Bahieldin told
SciDev.Net. "In future, GM wheat plants with improved drought tolerance
could be incorporated into breeding programmes throughout the Mediterranean

According to Bahieldin, just 38 per cent of Egypt's demand for wheat is met
domestically because the country's lack of water limits the area of land
that can be cultivated. He also says boosting plants' ability to deal with
water stress might mitigate other environmental stresses.

"The gap between supply and demand makes GM drought-tolerant wheat very
important for increasing cultivation in areas where sub-optimal conditions
such as water deficit, salinity or high temperature prevail," says

Mohammed Hamoud, head of genetic research division at the Egyptian Tanta
University's botany department cautiously welcomes the research findings,
acknowledging the potential for drought resistant GM wheat to boost
agricultural output in the Western and Sinai deserts.

"However, studies on its safety for human consumption and the environment
must be carried out first," Hamoud told SciDev.Net.


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