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White flour

Nutritional content of wheat substantially improved by activating latent "wild" gene

Monday, November 27, 2006 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: white flour, genetically modified foods, genetically modified wheat


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(NewsTarget) -- New research published in the journal Science suggests that cross-breeding domesticated wheat with wild wheat can re-activate a naturally occurring gene that increases levels of iron, zinc and protein.

Researchers from the University of California at Davis found that a single gene found in domesticated wheat -- GPC-B1 (Grain Protein Content) -- was responsible for low levels of protein, zinc and iron when repressed by RNA interference.

The researchers, led by Professor Jorge Dubcovsky of UC Davis, used a recently discovered technique called RNA interference -- which blocks the expression of certain genes -- to hamper the activity of GPC-B1 in a variety of wheat called Bobwhite, which is frequently used to make bread.

"The results were spectacular," said Dubcovsky. "The grains from the genetically modified plants matured several weeks later than the control plants and showed 30 percent less grain protein, zinc and iron, without differences in grain size.

"This experiment confirmed that this single gene was responsible for all these changes," he said.

Dubcovsky and his team of researchers believe that if suppressing GPC-B1 results in lower nutrition value and slower crop development, enhancing the gene -- which is naturally found in varieties of wild and domesticated wheat, in slightly different forms -- would boost nutritional content and help grains mature faster.

The researchers are currently in the process of creating new varieties of nutritionally enhanced wheat by crossing domesticated wheat with wild wheat. Though the experiment utilized RNA interference to hamper the expression of GPC-B1, the researchers are using cross breeding to create the new varieties.

The cross-breeding uses a technology called Market Assisted Selection (MAS) to select plants to cross based on genetic information. Traditional cross breeding chooses plants based on desirable attributes.

According to Dubcovsky, because wheat is a major world crop that is responsible for roughly one-fifth of the calories consumed by humans, any increase in its nutritional content would improve health worldwide.

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