Monday, November 27, 2006

Wild Wheat Gene Raises Domestic Grain's Goodness

(HealthDay News) -- Whole wheat may soon be even better for you.

American and Israeli scientists have cloned a wild wheat gene that they say boosts the protein, iron and zinc content in the grain. The discovery might even help ease nutritional deficiencies affecting millions of children worldwide, they say.

"Wheat is one of the world's major crops, providing approximately one-fifth of all calories consumed by humans, therefore, even small increases in wheat's nutritional value may help decrease deficiencies in protein and key micronutrients," research leader Professor Jorge Dubcovsky, of the University of California, Davis, said in a prepared statement.

The gene, GPC-B1, accelerated grain maturity and resulted in a 10 percent to 15 percent increased protein and micronutrient content in wheat varieties tested so far by the scientists.
The findings appear in the Nov. 24 issue of Science.

More than 2 billion people worldwide are deficient in zinc and iron, and more than 160 million children younger than 5 don't get enough protein, according to the World Health Organization.

Dubcovsky and his colleagues were surprised to discover that all cultivated pasta and bread-wheat varieties they've analyzed so far have a nonfunctional copy of GPC-B1. This suggests the gene was lost as humans developed domesticated wheat varieties.

"Therefore, the reintroduction of the functional gene from the wild species into commercial wheat varieties has the potential to increase the nutritional value of a large proportion of our current cultivated wheat varieties," Dubcovsky said. "Furthermore, this discovery provides a clear example of the value and importance of conserving the wild germplasm -- the source of genetic diversity -- of our crop species."

More information
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about nutrition.

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