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expert reaction to the results of the 5 year project to develop wheat that is genetically engineered to repel aphids

The full results of the controversial GM wheat field trial held by Rothamsted Research in 2012-2013 were published today in the journal Scientific Reports. The data shows that the ‘whiffy’ wheat did not repel aphid pests in the field as hoped, but the authors report success in other areas of the trial. In a world first, the genetically engineered wheat was able to produce the aphid alarm pheremone (E)-β-farnesene successfully.


Prof. Ottoline Leyser, Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge, said:

“We are in urgent need of new ways to control insect pests on crops, with very limited options available from pesticide sprays and conventional breeding. Alternative approaches ranging from new agricultural practices to genetic modification must be explored. This field trial is an excellent example of the sort of work that is needed.”


Prof. Jonathan Jones, Plant Molecular Biologist at The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, said:

“I welcome publication of the results of the beta-farnesene GM wheat field trial. These data provide a timely reminder that what works in the lab might not always work in the field, especially when the GM trait is intended to influence something as complex as insect behavior. Despite the strenuous efforts of anti-GM protestors, a field experiment was conducted, a clear result was obtained, and the scientists involved can now use this information to refine and improve their technical approaches to control aphids in crops without using insecticides.”


‘The first crop plant genetically engineered to release an insect pheromone for defence’ by Toby J. A. Bruce et al. was published in Nature Scientific Reports on Thursday 25th June.


Declared interests

Prof Ottoline Leyser:

Employment and paid consultancies

Director, The Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge

Company of Biologists, Editor of “Development”

European Research Council, grants board member

Ad hoc payments for one off consultancies for universities and research institutes, funders etc.

Gatsby Foundation, Plant Science Advisor

Norwich Research Park Science Advisory Board

Current Opinion in Plant Biology, Co-Editor in Chief

Biotechnology and Biological Science Council occasional committee work

Other organisations (unpaid)

Umea Plant Science Centre: Advisory Board Member

Gregor Mendel Institute, Vienna: Advisory Board Member

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tubingen: Advisory Board Member

European Molecular Biology Organisation: Member

Athena Forum: Chair

Clare College, Cambridge: Fellow

Society of Biology: Fellow and Education

Royal Society: Fellow and Council member, Chair, Science Policy Advisory Group

National Academy of Science, USA: Foreign associate

Leopoldina: Member

International Plant Molecular Biology: President

British Society for Developmental Biology: Chair

Sense About Science: Plant science panel member

Science and Plants for Schools: Grant holder

International Plant Growth Substances Association: Council member

Numerous academic Journals: Advisory Editorial Board member

Science Media Centre: Trustee

Current Research Funding

Gatsby Foundation

European Research Council


Professor Jonathan Jones did his PhD at the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge, and then worked on symbiotic nitrogen fixation at Harvard. He began making GM plants in 1983 at a startup agbiotech company, Advanced Genetic Sciences (now defunct) in Oakland California, where he worked for 5 years. He used the GM method to make discoveries about what regulates gene expression in GM plants, and about plant transposable DNA.

Since 1988, Jones has been a researcher at the Sainsbury Lab in Norwich (, funded largely by David Sainsbury’s private charity the Gatsby Foundation. He has led a well-regarded basic research program into mechanisms of plant disease and plant disease resistance, for which he was elected EMBO member in 1999 and FRS in 2003. He is one of the highest cited plant scientists in Europe ((

Jones is cofounder of (in 1997) and science advisor to the biotech company Mendel Biotechnology. Monsanto was a major client, but no longer is. As of July 2010, Mendel had been granted over 20 biotechnology and GM patents. In its 2008 Annual Report it listed as one of two lines of business that were central to its growth a collaborative project with Monsanto on soybean yield, “the basis of which is a Mendel technology”. However it is not clear if this trait will be brought to market. Mendel’s 2009 Annual Report noted two collaborative partnerships: one with Monsanto and the other with Bayer CropScience.

Jones also co-founded Norfolk Plant Sciences in 2007 with Prof Cathie Martin of JIC, with the goal of bringing flavonoid-enriched tomatoes to market ( Regulatory constraints in Europe mean that the benefits of this product are likely to brought to market in Canada before this happens in Europe.

He is also on the Science advisory board of Nomad Biosciences in Halle, Germany, which aims to produce human pharmaceutical and other valuable proteins using plant viruses rather than GM plants.

He recently became a science advisor to start-up Scottish biotech company Synpromics (

Jones is on the board of and the science advisory board of David Sainsbury’s 2Blades foundation (

In addition to his basic science programs, Jones has isolated and is isolating new resistance genes against potato late blight from wild relatives of potato, with the goal of using them to deliver market-favoured potato varieties that are protected from late blight by genes, rather than by chemistry. Patents have been filed on the Rpi-vnt1 gene, which was trialed in Norfolk, and the gene is being commercialized in the US by Simplot (

Because of his 30+ years of experience with using the GM method, his distinguished academic career, his commitment to public engagement, his familiarity with the seeds and agbiotech industry, and his concern that the potential benefits of using GM methods be brought to public use and not carelessly spurned, he is sporadically called upon to provide advice to government. He was a coauthor on and on the annexe to a recent report about GM requested by the Council on Science and Technology (

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