Non-transgenic strategy to increase wheat yield

The reference news

Dr. Ram Sagar Misra, from the Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford and currently with the Department of Chemistry, Shiv Nadar University, has recently been able to increase the amount of starch produced and, therefore, the yield of wheat using a non-transgenic method.

Dr. Misra used a precursor that enhances the amount of a key sugar-signalling molecule [trehalose-6-phosphate (T6P)] produced in wheat plant.

With this intervention, he has been able to:

  1. increase wheat grain yield by 20%
  2. improve the resilience of wheat to environmental stress such as drought
Scientific basis

The T6P molecule stimulates starch synthesis, which in turn, increases the yield.

While genetic methods can increase the T6P level two-three fold, the four precursor compounds were able to achieve 100-fold increase in the sugar-signalling molecule level compared with plants that did not receive the molecule.

In field trials using wheat, a tiny amount of precursor given to the plant increased the yield significantly — the grains produced were bigger as the amount of starch content in the grains increased by 13-20%.

A particular precursor molecule — ortho-nitrophenyl ethyl — showed the best results in both A. thaliana plants and wheat studies. The uptake of this molecule by the plants was much more than the other three molecules and the precursor took less time to release T6P.

What is unique about this method?

The most important aspect is that this increase in yield and environmental hardiness are not due to transgenic technology but based on supplementation of the plant with certain precursor molecule.

Being non-transgenic increases its utility manifold as there is no foreign gene involved. It will make the wheat variety safer for human consumption and it is likely to get commercialization approval faster.

Furthermore, since the pathway of T6P molecule is the same in other plants, the yield can potentially be increased by using suitable precursors in several other cop plants.