A team led by Rothamsted Research with colleagues from the University of Bristol have used the new technique of genome editing to develop a type of wheat that is less likely to produce acrylamide when baked.
According to project leader Professor Nigel Halford, the researchers are preparing an application to the UK Government to run a field trial of this new wheat, starting in autumn – the first such trial of genome edited wheat to be carried out anywhere in Europe, farmweek.com reports.
“Acrylamide has been a very serious problem for food manufactures since being discovered in food in 2002. It causes cancer in rodents and is considered ‘probably carcinogenic’ for humans. It doesn’t just occur in toast and other wheat products, but many other foods that are fried, baked, roasted or toasted, including crisps and other snacks, chips, roast potatoes and coffee.”
The amount of acrylamide in bread is relatively low, but it increases many-times over when the bread is toasted. What is more, the compounds that impart color, flavor and aroma form by similar chemical pathways, so the darker and tastier the toast, the more acrylamide it is likely to contain. The same applies to other foods that are affected.
Sarah Raffan, who has just completed a PhD project to make and analyze the low asparagine wheat and who will be the lead researcher on the field trial, said: “We’ve used genome editing to reduce the amount of the amino acid, asparagine, in the grain. It’s the asparagine that is converted to acrylamide during baking and toasting, so a low asparagine wheat should lead to lower levels of acrylamide, which is good news for anyone who likes their toast well done.”
The CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technique leads to small changes in the DNA, such as the deletion or insertion of short sections of DNA, or changes to the DNA sequence, in this instance halting the function of a gene involved in the production of asparagine.
It differs from the GM approach in that it doesn’t involve the introduction of novel, foreign or additional genes.
Despite the differences between genome editing with CRISPR/Cas9 and GM, genome edited plants are currently treated in the same way as GM under EU regulations, essentially blocking the use of a technology that is gaining official approval in many other parts of the world.
The hope is that the current UK Government consultation on this issue will lead to new legislation in the UK, allowing genome edited food products, carefully regulated, to be available to consumers.