Cancer-cutting wheat to be grown in UK as scientists break free from EU red tape shackles

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The new strain will be grown using a genetic editing tool known as Crispr. The grain has been gene-edited to reduce levels of asparagine, a naturally occurring amino acid. When wheat is used to make bread and toast, asparagine is converted into acrylamide, which has been found to cause cancer in rodents.

The trial will be run by Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, which will grow the crop outside.

It is part of an effort to make healthier toast for Brits and comes as the Government probes more post-Brexit opportunities in agriculture away from EU red tape.

Professor Nigel Halford, who is leading the project, said the aim was to produce healthier wheat that would not be considered to be genetically modified.

Genetically modified crops (GM crops) are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering methods.

In most cases, the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species.

Crispr is said to be different though, as it allows the genetic material of a plant to be precisely edited without new material being added.

But in 2018, the EU Court of Justice ruled that Crispr-edited crops should be subject to the same stringent regulations as conventional GM organisms.

Scientists were left downbeat, arguing the decision would slow research.

Rothamsted Research said that the EU regulations were “essentially blocking the use of a technology that is gaining official approval in many other parts of the world”.\

Now, in Brexit Britain, they have been given permission for the new experiments by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Crispr will be used to “knock out” a gene out so that it no longer produces a key protein.

The department has said that where Crispr is used to breed crops that could have been developed using traditional methods, they should not have to be regulated as GM crops.

Scientists in countries including the US and China have invested heavily in the idea that Crispr is key to creating a generation of improved crops.

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The first gene-edited product to reach the market was a soya bean oil in the US in 2019. It used an alternative technique to Crispr.

A spokeswoman for Defra said: “We have the opportunity to make coherent policy decisions on gene editing based on current science and evidence.”

But there are still concerns over the use of Crispr.

A series of studies have suggested that it may cause cells to lose their cancer-fighting ability, and that it may do more damage to genes than previously understood.

Researcher Allan Bradley said: “It is important that anyone thinking of using this technology for gene therapy proceeds with caution, and looks very carefully to check for possible harmful effects.”

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