Australian scientists have discovered a gene (WAP1) that triggers flowering in cereals when they are at the right stage of development and environmental conditions are suitable.

The country’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) Dr Ben Trevaskis said: “We are doing experiments to see if wheat can being genetically engineered so that farmers can plant as normal and watch crops grow but they would not flower until the farmer applied a chemical that would ‘turn on’ the gene,” he said.

“This would allow farmers to avoid late frosts which can decimate crops,” he added.

The discovery of WAP1 has been simultaneously confirmed in the USA and Canada.