HL Deb 17 June 1999 vol 602 c52WA
The Earl of Haddington

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What research they are aware of on the ability to transfer the gene that fixes nitrogen in the soil, known to be present in maize and clover, to wheat, barley and oats. [HL2865]

Lord Whitty

An early goal identified by many engaged in agricultural biotechnology was the transfer of genes responsible for the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen in plants like clover to cereals which lack this capability.

Research to understand the biology of the intimate association between the bacterium responsible for fixing nitrogen in plants such as clover has been intensive over the past 30 years. Many of the genes involved (both in the plant and the bacterium) have been identified and isolated. One of the principles that has emerged from this work is that this trait is very complex and the transfer of nitrogen fixation between crops has proved to be technically difficult. I understand that, to date, the transfer of nitrogen fixation to cereals (or any other plant) has not yet been achieved. No applications have been received to release plants modified to fix atmospheric nitrogen.