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Cloned wheat gene may boost nutrient content

Agriculture.com Staff 11/25/2006 @ 8:13am

Researchers at the University of California-Davis and the University of Haifa in Israel have successfully cloned a gene from wild wheat that increases the protein, zinc and iron content in the grain.

The cloned gene offers a potential solution to nutritional deficiencies affecting hundreds of millions of children around the world.

"As a major crop across the globe, providing 20% of all calories consumed by humans, any improvement in the nutritional value of wheat would have substantial health benefits for much of the world's population," says Gale Buchanan, USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics.

Jorge Dubcovsky at UC Davis and Dr. Tzion Fahima at the University of Haifa designated the cloned gene GPC-B1 for its effect on grain protein content. GPC-B1 accelerates grain maturity and increases grain protein and micronutrient content by 10% to 15% in the wheat varieties studied so far.

To prove that all these effects were produced by this gene, the researchers created genetically modified wheat lines with reduced levels of the GPC gene. These lines were developed by Dr. Ann E. Blechl of the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Albany, California. The grains from the genetically modified plants matured several weeks later than the control plants and showed 30% less grain protein, zinc and iron, confirming that the GPC gene was responsible for the changes.

The researchers also found that all commercial pasta and bread wheat varieties analyzed so far have a nonfunctional copy of the GPC gene, suggesting the gene was lost during the domestication of wheat. Reintroducing the functional gene into commercial wheat varieties could increase their nutritional value.

The project received partial funding from the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service's National Research Initiative (NRI).

Researchers at the University of California-Davis and the University of Haifa in Israel have successfully cloned a gene from wild wheat that increases the protein, zinc and iron content in the grain.

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