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Genetic engineering for nutritional crops, pest control versus price and weather-strong crops

By Nicola Cottam

- Last updated on GMT

Genetic engineering for nutrition and abiotic stress tolerance is some of the latest science for the Milling & Grains sector
Genetic engineering for nutrition and abiotic stress tolerance is some of the latest science for the Milling & Grains sector

Related tags Wheat

Genetically engineering a new generation of nutritionally-rich cereals, managing herbicide resistance and abiotic stress in crops, and considering cost over pest control are covered.

Biotechnology to improve functionality of cereals

Levels of essential nutrients like polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and pigments in cereal crops have been increased using biotechnological techniques, based on solid state fermentation (SSF) and genetic engineering.

Scientists said SSF represents a promising approach where the selected fungi (Zygomycetes) effectively utilize and transform raw cereal substrates to cereal-based bio-products containing high amounts of valuable PUFAs and carotenoids. Depending on the strain, types of cereal substrates and cultivation conditions, a range of cereal-based bio-products enriched with PUFAs and pigments (8.5 mg beta-carotene/kg pre-fermented cereals) have been developed.

In addition, cereals (including barley, wheat) consisting of gamma-linolenic and stearidonic acids have been prepared by genetic transformation of the fungal fatty acid Δ6-desaturase gene. Such functional pre-fermented cereal-based bio-products are characterised by the acceptable nutritive, functional, and flavor values, with improved antioxidant, radical-scavenging, and thermal oxidation properties as well as enhanced safety.

These cereal-based bio-products could therefore find applications in the food/feed fields, the scientists said.

Source: European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology
“Special Issue: EuroFedLipid Highlights 2013”
Published: Volume 115, Issue 11 pages 1247–1256, November 2013
“Biotechnology for the functional improvement of cereal-based materials enriched with PUFA and pigments”
Authors: M. Certik, T. Klempova, L. Guothova, D. Mihalik and J. Kraic

Tackling herbicide resistance in weeds

Sustainable strategies that target weed seeds during crop harvest must be used in herbicide-based programs to overcome resistance, say researchers.

Globally, herbicide resistance in weeds that attack wheat crops continues to escalate, threatening grain production and therefore, food supply. Over the last two decades, herbicide resistance has expanded unabated across the worlds’ wheat production regions.

However in Australia, where herbicide resources have become desperately depleted, the adoption of harvest weed seed control is evidence of a successful approach to sustainable weed management in wheat production systems, the researchers said.

Growers who routinely include strategies to target weed seeds during crop harvest - as part of their herbicide-based weed management programs - are now seeing significant weed control and crop production benefits.

When combined with an attitude of zero-weed tolerance there is evidence of a sustainable weed control future for wheat production systems. The hard-learned lessons of Australian growers can now be viewed by global wheat producers as an example of how to stop the continual loss of herbicide resources in productive cropping systems.

Source: “Pest Management Science”
Published: December 8, 2013, DOI: 10.1002/ps.3704
“Management of herbicide resistance in wheat cropping systems: Learning from the Australian experience”
Authors: MJ. Walsh and SB. Powles

Cost management versus pest control

Bt corn hybrids remain valuable in controlling European Corn Borer (ECB) populations but farmers in areas of low ECB damage could consider cheaper alternatives, say researchers.

ECB levels appear to be in decline across Pennsylvania, they said, and so farmers working in this area could consider using cheaper non-Bt hybrids instead.

“In areas with low ECB populations, some non-Bt hybrids can yield competitively and result in higher profits,”​ they said.

However, they did warn that switching to more competitively priced non-Bt hybrids could risk ECB damage, as Bt hybrids “remain a valuable control option”.

Source: Pest Management Science​Published: December 2013, DOI: 10.1002/ps.3712“Current European Corn Borer, Ostrinia nubilalis, Injury Levels in the Northeastern US and the Value of Bt Field Corn”​Authors: EW. Bohnenblust, J. Breining, JA. Shaffer, SJ. Fleischer, GW. Roth, JF. Tooker

Improving abiotic stress tolerance of cereal crops

The agri-business industry must exploit plant genetic variability to breed crops with greater resistance to adverse weather conditions, say researchers.

Industry should look to improve yield stability and increase production to develop crop varieties with enhanced tolerance to abiotic stresses, such as cold, heat, drought, salinity and flooding. This can be achieved through androgenesis and genetic transformation - developing homozygous transgenic plants rapidly for sustainable agriculture, the researchers said.

The use of unconventional techniques such as doubled haploid (DH) breeding through androgenesis (anther and microspore culture) will become more useful in speeding up the application of conventional plant breeding methods, they said.

They added that application of different physical and chemical stress pre-treatments can also have a positive effect on microspore development and embryogenesis, and on influencing doubling efficiency.

Source: “Climate Change and Plant Abiotic Stress Tolerance”
Published Online: Nov 8, 2013, DOI: 10.1002/9783527675265.ch29
“Improvement of Cereal Crops through Androgenesis and Transgenic Approaches for Abiotic Stress Tolerance to Mitigate the Challenges of Climate Change in Sustainable Agriculture”
Authors: N. Tuteja, ​SS. Gill, ​S.M. Shahinul Islam,  ​I. Ara, ​N. Tuteja

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