YORK, UNITED KINGDOM — Researchers at the University of York have created a new modified wheat variety with grains that are up to 12% bigger than those in conventional wheat varieties, a discovery that could help agriculture meet increasing global food demand. Previously, producing plants with bigger grains was accompanied by a decrease in grain numbers.

“Attempts to increase the yield of wheat have been thwarted by the apparent trade-off between grain size and grain number,” said Simon McQueen-Mason, PhD, a professor from the university’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products in the Department of Biology. “We decided to side-step this complex control system by giving a boost to the natural growth system that controls the size of plant tissues.

“We did this by increasing the levels of a protein called expansin, which is a major determinant of growth in plants. We targeted this modification so that it was confined to developing wheat grain, and are delighted by the results.”

Research partners at the Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Chile, conducted field experiments showing how the wheat was effective under agricultural conditions.

Dr. McQueen-Mason said experts have predicted global food production needs to increase by 50% by 2030 in order to meet demand caused by population growth.

 “The negative impacts of climate change on crop yields are making this even more challenging,” he said. “While researchers are working hard to meet this challenge, there remains a lot to do.”