The researchers have been working with Adelaide University’s durum wheat breeding programme and released DBA-Aurora, a new variety of durum that promises a step-change in potential production in southern Australia.
The crop, named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, is high yielding with improved quality and robustness and has already been attracting considerable interest from the global pasta manufacturing industry.
Fibre on the outside, starchy within
The researchers found that the outer shell of a durum wheat kernel can be used to make high-fibre wholemeal pasta, while the starchy inner parts of the kernel are used in traditional spaghetti.
"DBA-Aurora heralds a new beginning for the Australian durum industry with many superior attributes over current commercially grown varieties, including Hyperno, Saintly, Tjilkuri, Yawa and WID802 in South Australia and Victoria," said Dr Jason Able, the leader of the university's breeding programme.
"With over five years of advanced trial fieldwork, DBA-Aurora has consistently shown yield potential that is as good as or better than the current highest yielding commercially available durum varieties across Australia.
“Its most notable features are an improved disease resistance package, larger grain size, good test weight, early vigour and weed competitiveness when compared to the other high yielding durum varieties.”
Healthier spag bol
Meanwhile, Italian PhD student Ilaria Marcotuli has been working with the team to increase the fibre content in the inner parts of durum wheat.
She identified two Australian lines of durum that are not currently used in pasta production which could increase the dietary fibre in spaghetti by up to 20%.
"I had a look at the amount of dietary fibre found in durum wheat, so I determined which lines can be used for improving human health," she explained.
"We know which lines could be useful, but we would like to do some more tests just to be sure, before we can try to introduce it to companies or to worldwide consumption.”
Low dietary fibre intake affects people all over the world and has been linked to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s and even asthma and emphysema.
At the end of this month Marcotuli will return to Italy to correlate the data, but her supervisor, Professor Geoff Fincher, said the project is still far from over.
"What we are trying to do is to identify the genes which are involved in the biosynthesis of these dietary fibre components, and once we know what the genes are we can think of ways to manipulate them," he said.
The scientists are also trying to increase the dietary fibre in betaglucan, which is found in oats and barley. So far, they have confirmed that dietary fibre in barley can be increased by more than 50 per cent by manipulating certain betaglucan genes.
Wealth of commercial applications
Back in the durum fields, Dr Able said the new variety will overcome concerns about possible quality downgrades and weed competition, and improve durum's fit into the farming system rotation.
"DBA-Aurora is a more robust durum that is better suited to an integrated weed management system, and less likely to be downgraded for small grain under a tight spring finish with minimal rainfall," he said, adding that there is already demand for the new variety from pasta manufacturers.
"I've just recently returned from Italy where I had preliminary discussions with Italian pasta giants Barilla and Divella, who clearly signalled that they want to buy durum from the southern regions of Australia," he said. "It is now in the hands of growers and exporters to meet that demand.
"These companies openly acknowledge [Southern Australia] produces some of the best durum in the world. What they need, though, is the availability of a consistent export supply, year-on-year, of 50-100 kilotonnes and more. DBA-Aurora will hopefully signal the start of increased opportunities for growers and exporters beyond that needed by San Remo and other local end-users."
Depending on this season and the way it finishes, as many as 1,000 tonnes of DBA-Aurora will be available through the Southern Australian Durum Growers Association for sale to sow in 2015.
Dr Able said the future also looks bright for ongoing variety development with upgraded breeding operations and new germplasm from overseas collections to widen the genetic-base of future varieties.