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expert reaction to Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s £6.4 million grant to genetically modify cereals to associate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria

The John Innes Centre in Norwich won a £6.4million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to develop genetically modified crops capable of taking nitrogen from the air, meaning they need little or no fertiliser.

 

Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development, Imperial College London, said:

“If we are to feed the world by 2050 we need to get greater yields with less fertiliser. One answer is to breed cereal crops that can partner with bacteria in their roots to take in nitrogen from the atmosphere. It is the ‘Holy grail’ of modern plant breeding. Not easy to achieve but we now understand the fundamental biological and evolutionary processes much better. I am delighted the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has chosen John Innes, one of the foremost biological research laboratories in the world, to carry out this research.”

 

Professor Jules Pretty, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Essex, said:

“If we cracked N fixation in cereals, in this case maize in Africa, it would be perhaps the greatest agricultural breakthrough of the century, perhaps of the millennium. It is a hard problem, but if successful it would be blindingly transformational for people and the environment.”

 

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