14 Dec 2017 --- A newly developed form of wheat has ten times the amount of resistant starch, the fiber found in normal wheat that helps to improve gut health, battle bowel cancer and fight Type 2 diabetes. The new wheat was developed by an international team including the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and could provide millions of people with a lot more fiber without having to change their eating habits, CSIRO reports.
In the American States of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, a small number of farmers have just harvested the first US crop of the wheat, which is high in amylose. The wheat will be processed into flour and incorporated into a range of food products that people in the US can expect to see appearing on their supermarket shelves in coming years.
Fiber lacking in Western diets
Dr. Ahmed Regina (pictured right), a principal research scientist at CSIRO, says products made from high-amylose wheat contained more than ten times the resistant starch, a type of dietary fiber, found in those made from regular wheat.
“Largely lacking in Western diets, resistant starch is known to improve digestive health, protect against the genetic damage that precedes bowel cancer and help combat Type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Ahmed Regina says.
“Wheat is the most popular source of dietary fiber and eaten by 30 per cent of the world’s population, whether it's in bread, pizzas, pastas or tortillas,” Dr. Ahmed Regina continues. “Having a wheat with high levels of resistant starch enables people to get this important fiber without changing the type of grain they eat or the amount of grain-based foods they need for recommended dietary levels.”
The team responsible for developing the new type of wheat is also hopeful an Australian-based company will capitalise on the opportunity to market it locally.
Reaping rewards of collaboration
The wheat is a result of a collaboration, which started in 2006, between CSIRO, French company Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients and the Grains Research and Development Corporation. They worked together to develop wheat varieties with a higher content of resistant starch and eventually spun out a company called Arista Cereal Technologies.
A breakthrough came when they identified two particular enzymes that, when reduced in wheat, increased the amylose content.
“From there, we used a conventional breeding approach, not GM techniques, and managed to increase the amylose content of wheat grain from around 20 or 30 percent to an unprecedented 85 per cent,” Dr. Ahmed Regina says. “This was sufficient to increase the level of resistant starch to more than 20 percent of total starch in the grain compared to less than 1 percent in regular wheat.”
The US-based Bay State Milling Company was the first company to take this technology to the market through a licensing arrangement with Arista. This year it contracted farmers to grow about 400 hectares of the wheat, which will be marketed as HealthSense high-fiber wheat flour.
“We are very excited to launch HealthSense in the US and change the way Americans think about wheat,” Bay State Milling CEO Peter Levangie says. “HealthSense will deliver flour functionality to our customers and fiber benefits to consumers, enabling better human health through the foods they love to eat.”
In Australia, Arista is partnering with a breeding company to develop high-amylose wheat varieties suitable for different regions. It is working on producing enough grain for product testing and seeds for initial commercialization.
Lindsay Adler from CSIRO, an Arista Director, says the company was keen to find an Australian licensee who would develop a new product for local and possibly also Asian markets. “This is an opportunity ripe for the picking, with customers across the world increasingly demanding foods with improved health benefits,” Mr. Adler comments.
CSIRO has developed other novel grains that commercial partners have taken to market, including the ultra-low gluten barley Kebari and BARLEYmax, a barley with high levels of resistant starch.
In other recent wheat-related news, MGP’s Fibersym RW resistant wheat starch has been found to contain an “extraordinarily” high level of dietary fiber by a human dietary study at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. In addition, research from Cornell University, US, has identified genes that control the vitamin E content in maize grain, a finding that could improve the crop’s nutritional content in the future.