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Scientists say gene-edited wheat can be milled into a flour that produces up to 45% less acrylamide.

Researchers have published the results of the first-ever field trial of a variety of wheat that was gene-edited (GE) to lower the formation of asparagine in the wheat grains. Asparagine is an amino acid that is converted into acrylamide when cooked.

Lab tests have shown acrylamide in the diet causes cancer in animals and, while evidence from human studies has been inconclusive, the scientific consensus is that it has the potential to cause cancer in humans.

Researchers in the field trial found that the levels of asparagine in the GE wheat were up to 50% lower than the control variety Cadenza. And, once ground into flour and cooked, the amounts of acrylamide formed were up to 45% lower than in the control variety.

Researchers said the field trial was an important step in determining whether the new GE wheat would be viable. While indoor trials had proved successful, the research team said they could only be sure that the new strain could deliver for farmers by planting out in experimental fields.

“The study showed that gene editing to reduce asparagine concentration in the wheat grain works just as well in the field as under glass,” said lead researcher Professor Nigel Halford of Rothamsted Research.

He explained that availability of low acrylamide wheat could enable food businesses to comply with evolving regulations on the presence of acrylamide in food without changing production lines or reducing product quality.

The results of the study come as the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which will make provision for the release and marketing of GE crops, is in the final stages of its passage through Parliament.

“GE plants will only be developed for commercial use if the right regulatory framework is in place and breeders are confident that they will get a return on their investment in GE varieties,” added Halford.