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Protein-rich wheat could open new markets

Australian high-protein wheat could be ‘industry standard’ in 10 years

By Nicola Cottam , 10-Jul-2014
Last updated on 10-Jul-2014 at 15:09 GMT

Australian high-protein wheat could be ‘industry standard’ in 10 years

Australian scientists are close to releasing a new batch of protein-rich wheat suitable for harvesting in low-quality soil, giving growers in Australia and parts of China and Africa—the opportunity to produce quality dough for bread-making.

“This could open up new markets for Australian growers and enable them to compete in the supply of high-protein bread flour,” said research lead Rudi Appels, professor of veterinary and life science at Murdoch University in Perth. “It will also give other regions with poor soil micronutrient content the opportunity to produce better quality crops.”

Australia’s wheat export trade is worth around A$5bn (US$4.7 bn) per year, with the majority (around 22 million tons) ending up in Asia for noodle production. However, this new variant will give local producers welcome leverage to compete with Asian export rivals, including Canada and the US, according to Appels.

“This is a step change for Australian growers and I predict that the material we are producing will be the industry standard within 10 years.”

All six major proteins present, improving strength and elasticity of dough

The Murdoch University researchers, led by Professor Wujun Ma, spent the last four years investigating the recently discovered wheat grain—sourced from an Italian gene bank—after discovering it contained active, or “expressed”, examples of all six high molecular weight (HMW) glutenins, which is the major protein group in wheat flour, Appels explained.

“In most wheat variants only five of the necessary glutenins are expressed but in this strain all six are active, effectively increasing the grain’s protein content by one sixth,” he said.

HMW glutenins are associated with superior quality flour and are responsible for the strength and elasticity of the end dough, he continued.

“Dough quality is dependent on the number and composition of HMW glutenin sub-units. Glutenins stabilize the dough and give it the good, solid structure demanded by manufacturers.”

Increasing value exports by $50mn

Australian growers typically produce wheat containing around 10-12% protein, which is quite low compared to Europe, Appels noted, adding that although the new strain contains less protein than standard bread flour, “the overall quality will be better.”

The new commercial wheat variant developed by the Australian team from the originally wheat grain is currently in the hands of breeders to adapt the material for use in different areas in Australia, said Appels.

“It will not be commercially available for another five years, but when it is we estimate it could increase value exports by 1%, or $50 million.”

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