Did you know that wheat is one of the world’s most consumed cereal grains? Just think about this; The bread you so much love to eat, those pancakes you make for your kids, the crackers you add to their lunchbox before they go to school, these, and more are made up of wheat. Interestingly, wheat is of great nutritional value. Statistics show that wheat accounts for essentially 20% of the protein consumed worldwide. However, with the ongoing Ukraine crisis, 48% of the global wheat export has suffered a major hit as Russia and Ukraine account for a major fraction of the wheat export. Researchers say that the world may soon experience a scarcity of wheat and its products.
However, using genetic engineering, a group of international researchers at the University of Adelaide and the UK’s John Innes Centre have discovered a new way that not just increases the wheat yield, but also ensures that the wheat produced has a higher protein value.
Genetic engineering identifies genes that drive wheat growth
Scientists have identified a genetic driver of wheat that can induce the production of a higher yield of wheat and increase the protein content of this wheat produce up to 25%. Since genes drive cell production, discovering the exact gene that regulates these two factors is likely to help generate new wheat varieties that produce higher quality grain.
They tested these on-field plants, they discovered a 15% to 25% increase in the yield and an increase in the protein content. Interestingly, the wheat also developed extra spikelets known as paired spikelets. However, there has been no record of an increased wheat yield associated with planting the extra spikelets.
The team expects that the new wheat varieties will be made available to breeders in 2–3 years, which could then translate to benefits for farmers in 7–10 years.
This research is the first recognized example where a forward-genetics screen of a mutant population has been used to identify a gene that regulates reproductive growth in wheat. The results from this project will provide insights on how to help boost the healthy and economic value of wheat.
Also, besides the important outcome of this work for the future of wheat breeding, the research itself is of immense value to the scientific community as it provides a classical example of new capabilities that are accessible to wheat research.
Genetics has once again successfully attempted to create a better life. An increase in the wheat yield will make wheat and products obtained from wheat, like bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes, cereal bars, and sweets cheaper, and more accessible. Also, because the finding also increases the protein content of wheat, the protein content and overall nutritive value of the wheat products are increased. Indeed, the results of this research, when made known and accessible to farmers worldwide will yield a tremendous impact on the world food supply.