An investigation into the genetic diversity of wild wheat by Murdoch University PhD student Yujuan Zhang and her supervisor Professor Wujun Ma has revealed some promising results for modern day bread.
Prof Ma said the duo had been searching for characteristics that could improve modern day bread, such as a recently identified wheat grain gluten protein class.
“This protein class was an exciting discovery, but as it has a low genetic diversity in modern bread wheat, it will be difficult to use in wheat breeding,” Prof Ma said.
As part of their research, the researchers investigated the genetic origins of modern wheat and examined the genes of wild wheat (emmer) from Israel, which is the evolutionary ancestor of bread wheat.
“It is not exactly the same. Wild wheat has two genomes instead of the three genomes found in modern day wheat, but the two types of wheat can still be crossed successfully through traditional breeding techniques,” Prof Ma said.
“The interesting thing about wild wheat is that it has not been subjected to elective breeding through cultivation by farmers over many generations. This means it still has a wide genetic diversity that we can use for modern wheat improvement.”
The research team not only discovered a wide range of genetic diversity for the gluten protein that causes so many complications for wheat allergy sufferers, but also an entirely new understanding of the properties of the gluten protein.
“Until now, gluten proteins were only thought to be a source of nutrition for seed germination, but we discovered the new gluten protein also plays a role in anti-fungal infection,” Prof Ma said.
“The genetic richness of wild wheat opens a huge range of opportunities for future improvements in modern wheat breeding, which will be particularly important to cope with new environmental conditions caused by climate change.”