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Researcher Sarah Raffan with the gene edited wheat.

Britain scientists to grow cancer-cutting wheat for making healthier bread

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British scientists will grow a new strain of wheat using a revolutionary form of genetic editing as part of an effort to make healthier toast.

The trials will be the first in Europe for wheat that has been genetically edited using a tool known as Crispr. It comes as the British government consults on whether to use post-Brexit freedoms to break with European Union rules that have limited the use of the technology in agriculture.

Gene editing involves making precise changes to the DNA of one particular species.

Many scientists regard it as distinct from genetic modification (GM) where DNA from one type of organism is introduced to another.

The grain in the trial run by Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire has been gene-edited to reduce levels of asparagine, a naturally occurring amino acid, The Times reports.

When wheat is used to make bread and toast, asparagine is converted into acrylamide.

Project leader Professor Nigel Halford said: “It occurs in bread and increases substantially when the bread is toasted.”

Crispr has been used to produce wheat that people with gluten allergies can eat, as well as rice that produces 30 per cent more grain for each plant.

Many scientists believe Crispr is key to creating a generation of improved crops.

But there have been concerns it could lead to designer babies.

Chinese scientist He Jiankui revealed in 2018 that he had used Crispr to edit the genes of two baby girls, designed to protect the children from HIV.

The move was branded “monstrous” by some researchers while many scientists believed the edits were unnecessary and that the technology was too immature for this use.

About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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