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With this field test, ETH Zurich researchers were able to show for the first time anywhere that an extra gene improves wheat's resistance to fungi in the open air. Studies published to date had already proved increased resistance to fungi in greenhouse tests, but not in the open air. In this field test, the transgenic wheat exhibited a ten per cent higher resistance. This improved resistance to the common bunt pathogen is a significant success for research. Comparable quantitative wheat-specific resistance genes usually contribute a resistance to disease that is less than ten per cent. The complete results of the field test will be published in the next issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal.
This improved resistance to the common bunt pathogen can be considered an important success for basic research. What is decisive here is not so much the extent to which resistance has been improved as the fact that it was at all possible to achieve increased resistance in the open air. Further research can now build on this new knowledge.
Alongside the investigation of resistance, the researchers carried out a series of bio-safety tests, including those for checking safety measures. Overall, safety-related parameters were measured in sixteen associated tests, all of which confirmed the assessment that there was an extremely low risk. The results of the associated tests also showed that the strict provisions of "Genlex" (the Swiss law regulating genetic engineering) and the approval requirements do guarantee safety and supervision. Public research cannot conduct any projects that go further than the Genlex regulations or present a situation with unforeseeable conditions.
The field test carried out by ETH Zurich with genetically engineered modified wheat was conducted from 18 March to 14 July 2004 at the ETH testing area in Lindau Eschikon. What was being investigated was not practical use but basic research issues. The wheat plants tested were prototypes, not intended for either consumption or commercial application, but solely for research purposes. With this field test, ETH researchers tested the wheat's resistance to smut fungi (Ustilaginales). Transgenic wheat plants had already exhibited very good resistance to common bunt both in lab tests and in greenhouse tests. In order to understand the complex interaction between the plant, the fungus and the environment, these were then tested in a field experiment.
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