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This Genetically Engineered Wheat Was Suppose to Repel Insects — It Didn't

It turns out that genetically modified wheat may be falling a bit short. The GMO, which was designed to repel aphids, hasn't managed to do so in a field test.



Aphid. (Photo by Jerry Kirkhart)
Aphid. (Photo by Jerry Kirkhart)
Aphids cause major issues for wheat growers. The tiny insects feed on sap, and an infestation of aphids can reduce a harvest significantly; that's why researchers turned to genetic modification to see if that could potentially help matters.

So how would the wheat repel aphids? Scientists modified wheat to produce a natural pheromone which aphids release when under attack from predators. This "alarm" causes insects to flee to safety. It appears, though, that the field test wasn't a success.

"The disappointed thing was when we tested it in the field we didn't find any significant reduction [in aphids], said Toby Bruce, a chemical ecologist at Rothamsted, in an interview with Nature. "We didn't get the result that would have been useful in taking this forward. It was quite sad."

So why didn't it work? The researchers believe that it didn't work in nature because the aphids become used to the continuous release of the alarm pheromone. Over time, the aphids learn to ignore the pheromone and simply feed.

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