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Research  Fungal resistance, modified product characteristics, herbicide tolerance
Field trials EU 9
USA, Canada, Iceland, Australia
Approvals None
Perspective To date, a commercial use of GM barley cannot be expected to date.



Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is widespread in temperate climate regions all over the world. It is one of the oldest crops. In 2005, the global production averaged to 138 million tonnes that were cultivated in an area of about 56 million hectares. Russia, Canada, Germany, and France are leaders in cultivation. Barley is moderate as wheat and can grow under various conditions.

One can differentiate between "chaff-free barley" and "dinkel barley". During threshing of the "chaff-free", the chaff falls off. The "dinkel barley" must be husked, since the chaff is sessile. Today, mostly "dinkel barley" is cultivated since it is more profit yielding.



It is differentiated between the double-spaced spring barley and multi-lined barley, which is mostly winter barley. Double-spaced barely is mostly used in the brewery, multi-lined barely for processing of foods and as feed.
Barley is used as:

  • brewing barley for beer
  • barley malt for whiskey, liquors
  • flour for rye-wheat bread;
  • grain coffee, malt (sprouted barley seeds)
  • feed

Energy plants, renewable resources:

  • a source of industrial starch
  • as energy grain for fuel and heat generation (bio-ethanol, bio-methane)


Gene technology: aims in research and development

Agronomic traits

Disease resistance

  • Fungal resistance mainly against the fungi Fusarium gramineum, the main cause of harvest losses with regard to grains such as barley. Fungal infestation also can lead to exposure to a group of toxins known as called mycotoxins.

  • Viral resistance

Weed management

Adaptation to climate and location factors

  • Drought tolerance

  • Aluminium tolerance: in acid soil, aluminium that is toxic to plants may be found. In aluminium-tolerant plants a gene has been identified that is responsible for the release of organic bonds through the roots in order to neutralize the aluminium. Australian and Japanese scientists are researching this trait, to date in greenhouse trials. Field trials are expected.

Quality traits

Modified brew trait /characteristic

  • In the USA a species of barley was developed that, due to of a transferred bacterial gene, produces heat-resilient glucanases. These enzymes enhance, among other things, the utilisation of barley during the brewing process when glucanen, an important supporting substance for cell walls, is broken down and made available as a source of starch. The breaking down of glucans lowers the costs of brewing process, since the glucans no longer block filters.

    At the same time, glucanases heighten the fungal resistance of barley since they break down the glucan in their cell walls.

  • There is a possibility to strengthen or optimise the amylase activity of barley. Amylases break down the starch in the barley corns. Often, the natural amylase activity of brewing barley is not sufficient to utilize all of the starch that is present.

Modified feedstuff characteristics/traits

  • Enhanced digestibility and utilisation

    Glucanase genes also are introduced for optimising the quality of feed in barley. Since barley can be broken down in this manner, the GM barley can be fed to animals such as chickens which, due to the constitution of their enzymes, are unable themselves to break down the long-chain glucan of the cell walls. Chickens that are fed with barley usually display restricted growth.

Modified food characteristics/traits

  • Protein composition

  • Production of the sweetener thaumatin

Renewable resources

Production of pharmaceutical agents

  • Molecular pharming: utilisation of genetically modified barley as system for the production of medication.


Field trials with GM barley

Total number proposals 9
Countries Finland 2, England 3, Germany 2, Hungary 2
Period 1996-2009
Traits Fungal resistance, modified product characteristics, herbicide tolerance
World wide
USA 83
Period 1993-2010
Traits Fungal resistance, modified product characteristics, herbicide tolerance
Additional countries Canada, Iceland, Australia


An EU Research Project

What are the risks of growing GM crops?

What are the benefits?

Numerous studies have addressed the potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants. Yet the existing evidence on the effects of GM plants is often contradictory and the quality of scientific research varies widely.

Therefore, the GRACE project will establish new tools for assessing the quality of existing studies and will conduct comprehensive reviews to identify health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM plants.

More information


GMO Soybeans & Sustainability

Less soil erosion and fuel consumption: herbicide tolerant soybeans are promoting sustainable cultivation methods.


Glyphosate in European agriculture

Interview with a farmer

Glyphosate containing herbicides are not only used in fields with GM crops. They also allow conventional farmers to sow directly into stubble fields without ploughing. Glyphosate has replaced mechanical weed control in many crops and has had an important impact on agricultural practices and crop yields in Europe over the past few decades.

European Glyphosate Task Force

 GMO Database
GM Food and Feed: Authorization in the EU
GMO Database: Contains information on every GM plant that has been approved or is awaiting authorisation in the EU.
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