Scientists ‘genetically edit’ bread to cut cancer-causing chemical

Rothamsted Research has conducted wheat field trials in Hertfordshire

Rothamsted Research has conducted wheat field trials in Hertfordshire

Toast could soon be healthier after scientists cultivated a field of wheat genetically edited to remove a cancer-causing chemical.

Bread produces a dangerous toxin called acrylamide when baked, which is believed to be carcinogenic and even deadlier when toasted.

The darker the toast, the more contamination is produced. Therefore, experts advise avoiding burnt foods.

Hertfordshire-based Rothamsted Research has conducted field trials of wheat genetically engineered to reduce the amount of acrylamide produced during cooking.

Tests showed that once the grain was ground into flour and baked, the amount of acrylamide was up to 45 percent lower than in normal breads.

Prof Nigel Halford, who led the research, said: “Bread contains some acrylamide and the amount increases by a factor when the bread is toasted.

“We edited wheat to turn off one of the genes responsible for making asparagine [the precursor to acrylamide] in the grain and consequently the concentration of asparagine is about half that in comparable unprocessed wheat.

“Specifically targeting asparagine is likely to have less effect on flavor and aroma than any other approach to reducing acrylamide.”

Acrylamide has been a concern for food manufacturers since it was discovered in food in 2002. It causes cancer in rodents and the European Commission has stated that ‘acrylamide in food may increase the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups’.

In addition to toast, acrylamide can be found in other foods that are fried, baked, broiled, or broiled, including potato chips, potato chips, roasted potatoes, and coffee.

To try and reduce the risks, scientists at Rothamsted Research investigated whether it was possible to turn off the trait using Crispr – the genetic snipping technique.

The process involves removing the TaASN2 gene in wheat, which produces the amino acid asparagine, which changes to acrylamide when heated above 120C.

Indoor trials of the new wheat proved successful in 2021, but it was not known if it would grow in the field or if it would successfully lower acrylamide levels.


On Monday, the team announced its success when it published the results in the Plant Biotechnology Journal.

The breakthrough comes just as the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act – which will enable the breeding and sale of genetically engineered crows – is entering the final stages of parliamentary consideration.

The wheat would qualify as a Precision Breed Organism, meaning it could be marketed.

According to food standards regulations, companies must ensure that the acrylamide content in food is as low as possible. Scientists say the new wheat could help manufacturers reach reduction targets.

Scientists still need to conduct taste tests to see if the processing impairs flavor, since similar chemical pathways that cause acrylamide to form also impart color, odor, and flavor.

But healthier bread and toast could be available by the end of the decade, researchers think.

“It would still be five to 10 years before breeders would include our wheat in their breeding programs and produce a commercial variety,” added Prof. Halford.

A second trial is now underway to see if knocking out a second gene could lead to even lower levels of acrylamide.

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