Research collaboration to deliver ‘healthier’ grains

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 23rd December 2010

Four of Australia’s leading research institutions will collaborate closely over the next three years to fast-track development of new ‘healthier’ varieties of three of the world’s most widely cultivated cereal grains.

The new ‘High Fibre Grains Cluster’ will focus on wheat, barley and rice. One of the primary research goals is to boost the amount of beneficial compounds, such as beta glucans and arabinoxylans, which are key contributors to the soluble component of dietary fibre in the various grains.

The collaboration between CSIRO’s Food Futures Flagship, The University of Adelaide, The University of Melbourne and The University of Queensland will bring together Australia’s foremost plant and human nutrition researchers with the aim of boosting the healthy fibre content of common grains.

The cluster will invest more than $7 million over three years, with the university partners receiving more than $3.4 million from the Flagship Collaboration Fund. The Fund was established to enable the skills of the wider Australian and global research community to be applied to the major national challenges targeted by CSIRO’s Flagship research programs.

“By bringing together scientists from CSIRO and leading Australian research institutions, the High Fibre Grains Cluster will produce more significant outcomes far more rapidly than if we each tackled these problems on our own,” Dr Lee said. “This is world-leading and groundbreaking research in the area of grains and their impact on human health.”

Professor Geoff Fincher from the University of Adelaide, the university partner leading the High Fibre Grains Cluster, said improving the fibre qualities of grains could have major health benefits for the wider population.

“Research has shown that the beta glucans and arabinoxylans found in soluble fibre block the re-absorption of cholesterol from the gut so more of this cholesterol is lost naturally from the body during the digestive process,” Professor Fincher said.

This is believed to contribute to the protective effects of wholegrains in lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke.

“Grains such as barley are good sources of soluble fibre, but levels are low in wheat and rice. The many health benefits that grains can bring have been proven, so the next step is to boost the amount of beneficial fibre in these grains, and this will be our focus over the next three years,” he said.

The High Fibre Grains Cluster follows on from a previous Flagship Collaboration Cluster which was set up to investigate the biggest source of fibre in grains – non-starch polysaccharides (NSP) in the plant cell wall. The successful three-year program, which concluded in March this year, focussed on the functions of NSP, factors controlling their synthesis and improving the ability to manipulate their levels and composition in grains.