UK: gene-edited wheat shows reduction of acrylamide after cooking

A group of researchers from Rothamsted Research (Hertfordshire, UK) have recently published the results of Europe’s first-ever field trial of a gene-edited (GE) variety of wheat showing a “significant reduction of the potential carcinogen acrylamide when the flour is baked.”    

Acrylamide is a known neurotoxin and carcinogen in lab animals. While evidence from human studies has been inconclusive, high levels of consumption have been shown to increase the risk of developing uterine and ovarian cancer.    

The new wheat strain was gene-edited to reduce the formation of asparagine (acrylamide’s precursor) in the wheat grains. The researchers found that the levels of asparagine in the GE wheat were up to 50% lower than the control variety. Once ground into flour and cooked, the amounts of acrylamide formed were also reduced by up to 45%.    

“The study showed that gene editing to reduce asparagine concentration in the wheat grain works just as well in the field as under glass,” said lead researcher Professor Nigel Halford. “This is important because the availability of low acrylamide wheat could enable food businesses to comply with evolving regulations on the presence of acrylamide in food without costly changes to production lines or reductions in product quality. It could also have a significant impact on dietary acrylamide intake for consumers,” he added.    

“However, GE plants will only be developed for commercial use if the right regulatory framework is in place and breeders are confident that they will get a return on their investment in GE varieties,” Prof. Halford declared.    

The results of the trial come at the right in time, as the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which will make provision for the release and marketing of GE crops, is in the final stages of its passage through UK Parliament.