WILL Australia's farmers fall for the charms of drought-resistant wheat, even if it's genetically modified? Faced with climate change and a growing food crisis, enthusiasts certainly hope such traits will help overcome aversion to GM technology.
Of 24 strains of GM wheat tested in field trials, two lines exceeded the yield of the non-GM variety by 20 per cent under drought conditions, according to German Spangenberg of the Victoria Department of Primary Industries in Melbourne, Australia. The results were presented last week at the Bio2008 convention in San Diego, California.
Environmental groups remain unconvinced. "The main driver of genetic engineering is to make it possible to patent crop strains. That won't help farmers in developing countries who need to keep back seeds for their next year's crop," says Louise Sales of Greenpeace Australia in Sydney.
Australian farmers may yet be persuaded. The forecast for this year's wheat crop has just been trimmed by 9 per cent because of dry conditions, although it may still be up by 10 million tonnes compared to last year's drought-devastated crop.