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GM Wheat a Reality by 2014?

China has allocated millions of dollars to transgenic wheat research and development and is virtually committed to its introduction; Kenya may soon become the first African country to trial GM varieties; and next month India will introduce a GM eggplant variety that could double yields.

As eggplant is a vital ingredient in the local diet, plant breeders say GM eggplant may be a forerunner for more GM food crops in India and other developing countries.

In a twist to the way scientific developments usually work - starting in developed countries and eventually finding their way to the Third World - GM wheat looks set to reverse the roles.

Support for GM wheat exists among the highest echelons of the world's crop scientists.

Dr Norman Borlaug, the father of the green revolution, who introduced new wheat varieties to India and Pakistan in the late 1960s that doubled wheat yields and saved the lives of an estimated one billion people, is a committed advocate.

"It's the only way to feed the world," said Dr Borlaug, now 95.

"We have to use every means available. The knowledge exists to do what we need to do. I just wish I had that technology available to me 40 or 50 years ago."

With a global population of more than nine billion people forecast by 2050, plant breeders are faced with the task of having to double wheat production again - a task many believe is impossible without GM varieties.

With a mind as alert as when he won the Nobel Prize in 1970, Dr Borlaug said there was "ongoing change" in the global attitude towards GM.

With Roundup Ready wheat developed but not released, he believed it would only be a matter of time before transgenic varieties were made available to growers.

"There's now a fourth pillar to the three essential ingredients needed to maximise wheat production," he said.

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