A controversial trial of genetically modified (GM) wheat has failed to repel pests any more effectively than ordinary crops, scientists have found.
Researchers attempted to engineer a variety of wheat to emit an odor that deters aphids in the hope of reducing the amount of pesticides required by plants.
The crops, nicknamed “whiffy wheat,” were successful in lab tests, but succumbed to aphids when trialed in the field.
The experiment cost £3m, some £2.2m of which was spent on fencing and other security measures to protect the trial from animals and saboteurs.
Campaign group GM Freeze said the experiment was a waste of money and further evidence of the “folly” of investing in GM technology.
Agricultural institution Rothamsted Research ran the trial in Hertfordshire from 2012 to 2013.
Scientists had hoped to create a strain of wheat capable of deterring aphids – such as greenfly and blackly – from eating the crops and spreading infections.
They changed the structure of the plants to produce a natural pheromone – commonly found in peppermint – which aphids release when attacked by predators.
Researchers hoped the modified plants would no longer need to be sprayed with insecticides.
While lab tests found the pheromone worked as a highly effective repellent, field tests revealed there was no difference between modified crops and conventional plants.
Senior molecular biologist Professor Hew Jones, who worked on the trial, said: “As scientists we are trained to treat our experimental data objectively and dispassionately, but I was definitely disappointed.
“We had hoped that this technique would offer a way to reduce the use of insecticides in pest control in arable farming. As so often happens, this experiment shows that the real world environment is much more complicated than the laboratory.”