Food Futures Flagship is now working with CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and its French partner, Biogemma, to develop novel wheat varieties that could meet emerging health needs.
"Diet-related non-infectious diseases, such as colo-rectal cancer, heart disease and diabetes, are some of the most serious health problems in the developed world," said Dr Bruce Lee.
"These new wheats produce significant levels of resistant starch. They can be incorporated as wholegrain into breads, cereals and other foods, giving us the opportunity to improve human health."
In a paper published last week in the international science journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers working within the Food Futures Flagship described how they used CSIRO-developed RNAi gene silencing techniques to suppress the expression of two starch-branching enzymes in an experimental wheat.
"The wheat had a significantly altered starch composition, increasing the amount of amylose from about 25 to 70 per cent," said theme leader Dr Matthew Morell.
"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.
"Starch resistant to digestion is also expected to generate favourable changes in the gastro-intestinal tract that promote bowel health and would be expected to lead to a reduction in colorectal cancer risk."
Biogemmas general manager Michel Debrand said that the outcome shows how the development of a health benefit, which adds value to seed grain, can result from long-term partnerships.
"It's an example of how different aspects of biotechnology, including gene discovery and genetic transformation, can be used to uncover biodiversity in a way which delivers real benefits to the consumer," he said.
The paper, High-amylose wheat generated by RNA interference improves indices of large-bowel health in rats, appears in the 27 February, 2006, edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and can be viewed at www.pnas.org/papbyrecent.shtml.
CSIRO is Australia's national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse scientific research organisations in the world. The Flagship programme is a CSIRO initiative that aims to align our research with major national issues, to achieve long goals over the next ten years.