Modified wheat promises fibre boost

Australian scientists have developed a low-GI wheat strain that could have bowel health, diabetes and obesity benefits.

Although the scientists at Australia's science agency, CSIRO, working in conjunction with French agritech firm BioGemma, used gene-splicing techniques to develop the wheat, which has significantly higher levels of digestion-resistant amylose, commercialisation would follow conventional methods, with pre-existing strains bred naturally if they matched the profile of the GM lab wheat.

"The team's current task is to breed the wheat using conventional methods, instead of gene technology," said research leader Dr Matthew Morell. This may be achieved using molecular marker techniques to identify the genetic diversity required to breed the high-amylose wheats.

The CSIRO wheat increased amylose levels from a regulation 20 per cent to about 70 per cent, which gives the strain "slow-carb" appeal for food makers if it can be commercialised. "Amylose is a form of starch that is more resistant to digestion, providing the potential for the new wheat to be an important component of foods with a low glycaemic index," said Morell.

The research was undertaken as part of the CSIRO's Food Futures Flagship programme, whose director, Bruce Lee, said: "These new wheats produce significant levels of resistant starch. They can be incorporated as wholegrain into breads, cereals and other foods."

University of California biotech specialist Alan McHughen noted the popularity of the new wheat would depend on the quality of the flour. "Any genetic change to the wheat starch will impose a change to the flour characteristics. And this will raise a red flag to the millers and bakers, a notoriously conservative group who view any change to their 'perfect' food with great suspicion."

Morell said testing in baked products had revealed the flour was "pretty good to work with."

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