Australia leading the way with 'flour power'

Thursday, 02 November, 2017


20% of the total calories and protein consumed worldwide comes from wheat. Imagine the global benefits to nutrition availability if the amount of flour produced from wheat could be increased 10%. Australian wheat already attracts a high price in the market — wheat with a higher flour yield would be even more beneficial to the Australian agri-community as well as improving global food security.

This is not simply pipe dreaming — a group of University of Queensland researchers is already looking at DNA testing to breed wheats that will yield up to 10% more flour.

Led by Professor Robert Henry, who is the UQ Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation Director, the team looked for the genes responsible for the protein that glues the wheat grain’s endosperm, wheat germ and bran layers together. If the wheat has less of this protein it comes apart more easily when milled or crushed and so the flour yield increases.

Now having pinpointed the genes that code for the protein, the team is investigating different wheat cultivars that produce less of this glue-like protein and come apart more easily in the milling process.

“This increases the efficiency of processing and improves the nutritional profile of the flour as more of the outer parts of the endosperm — rich in vitamins and minerals — are incorporated into the flour,” said Prof Henry.

“This applies not only to white flour but also to wholemeal flour. Potentially we can take high-yielding field wheats that have not traditionally been considered suitable for milling and turn them into milling wheats.

“This will improve on-farm production and reduce post-harvest wastage and the amount of resources used to grow the wheat. And, by getting a few per cent more flour from the 700 million tonnes of wheat produced globally each year, we will be producing significantly more food from the same amount of wheat.

“We haven’t been able to genetically select for this trait at early stages of breeding before,” Prof Henry said.

“The effect of this cell adhesion protein explains the difference between wheats that give us 70% flour when we mill it, to 80%, which is quite a big difference.”

Professor Henry said this knowledge could be employed immediately in wheat breeding programs.

“It means that we can produce premium wheats more efficiently and push the yields of quality premium wheats up.”

The team’s findings have been published in Scientific Reports.

Image: Professor Robert Henry, Director, UQ Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation.

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