Wheat variety with 25% higher protein content gives hope for future nutrition

Promising discovery: Researchers have created a variety of wheat that is more nutritious and potentially more productive than conventional varieties. Due to a genetic mutation, ears of wheat produce double spikelets and kernels with up to 25 percent more protein.

The team estimates that the new variety could be available in a few years. It could help optimize the important bread grain and improve global nutrition.

basic wheat

Wheat (Triticum aestivum) is one of the world’s most important staple foods, providing about 20 percent of the protein and calories consumed worldwide, more than any other food. But increasing heat and drought are taking a toll on the bread grain, and crop failures are on the rise. The war in Ukraine has also caused supply bottlenecks. Therefore, it is important for world nutrition to develop more resistant and nutritious wheat varieties.

However, because the wheat genome is huge and extremely complex, until now it has been difficult to identify genetic variants that have a positive effect on grain components and growth. Only since the wheat genome was decoded in 2018 have new possibilities opened up.

The mutation forms double spikelets

Laura Dixon of the John Innes Center in Norwich, UK, and her team have now also taken advantage of this opportunity. They examined genetic variants that produce “paired spikelets” in wheat. Two spikelets sprout from a node on the spike rachis: the normal one and a second floret directly below.

Using genetic analyses, the researchers determined which mutations produce such paired spikelets and which of them have potentially promising effects on wheat yield and nutrient content.

In fact, Dixon and colleagues found what they were looking for: They identified a mutation in the “Homebox Domain 2” (HB2) gene of the wheat genome that causes paired spikelets and increases the protein content of wheat kernels, as the experiments found. in the laboratory have shown. To check whether this is also the case outdoors, the scientists carried out a comparative field trial with the new variety, called ps1, and common wheat varieties.

Protein content increased by 25 percent

The result: “The ps1 plants grew even better in the field than in the greenhouse,” the team reports. The new variety grew similar in height to the reference plants, flowered and matured at the same time, and produced as many ears and grains like wheat

However, analysis of the beans showed that they contained about 25 percent more protein than those of the reference variety. The level of free amino acids, including the essential ones methionine, leucine and threonine, was also higher.

Also important: “This increase in protein content does not come at the expense of yield, so in addition to the higher nutrient content, this discovery is also economical for breeders and farmers,” says lead author Scott Boden of the University of Adelaide. “We also hope that with further improvement we will develop variants that also provide more performance.”

Best wheat for the world

According to the researchers, the discovery of this genetic variant now opens up new possibilities for producing more nutritious and perhaps also higher-yielding wheat varieties. “This could help produce grains with higher levels of nutrients for bread and cereals, which would benefit nutritional supply,” Boden said.

The research team estimates that new wheat varieties based on this genetic variant will be available to breeders in two to three years and can then be used by farmers in seven to ten years.

Source: University of Adelaide This

The article was written by Nadja Podbregar

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