WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Scientists have found a way to boost the protein, zinc and iron content in wheat, an achievement that could help bring more nutritious food to many millions of people worldwide.
A team led by University of California at Davis researcher Jorge Dubcovsky identified a gene in wild wheat that raises the grain's nutritional content. The gene became nonfunctional for unknown reasons during humankind's domestication of wheat.
Writing in the journal Science on Thursday, the researchers said they used conventional breeding methods to bring the gene into cultivated wheat varieties, enhancing the protein, zinc and iron value in the grain. The wild plant involved is known as wild emmer wheat, an ancestor of some cultivated wheat.
Wheat represents one of the major crops feeding people worldwide, providing about 20 percent of all calories consumed. The World Health Organization has said upward of 2 billion people get too little zinc and iron in their diet, and more than 160 million children under age 5 lack adequate protein.
Nice timing on this article, the day after Thanksgiving....
It would be great if this resulted in more nutritious grain, especially as it restores a gene function that was present in the wild ancestors of wheat. Bread wheat is actually a hexaploid, meaning that it has 6 copies of each gene (compared with most organisms which are diploid, having two copies of each gene). Emmer and Durum (pasta) wheat are tetraploids resulting from natural crosses between a diploid wheat and another, similar, grass. Domestic hexaploid wheat (a cross between Emmer or Durum, and a diploid grass relative) occurred at many different times and in many different combinations in the history of agriculture, well before anyone tried controlling hybridization.
The significance of this is that it uses only what is already available in domestic wheat and its wild ancestors. Hopefully this will blunt the inevitable criticisms of the anti-biotechnology crowd...