Major Australian-led quinoa scientific breakthrough

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 13th February 2017

There could soon be much more quinoa thanks to an Australian-led scientific breakthrough.

Quinoa, which has been increasing in popularity over the past few years, is hard to process because of a bitter tasting chemical called saponin. Saponins must be removed from quinoa prior to human consumption through a washing process.

An Australian scientist, Professor Mark Tester, from King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia has however led a team which has sequenced the genome of saponin chemicals in a Chilean coast variety of quinoa and have identified the gene which regulates the production of saponins.

The scientists say now the gene has been found, the genetics of the quinoa plant could be improved to remove the saponin chemicals, allowing for easier development of quinoa into a mass commodity.

Until now quinoa has had to go through a washing process to remove the saponin chemical, but without this toxin, quinoa can be more easily processed just like wheat is into flour.

“Quinoa is a highly nutritious, gluten-free, low-glycaemic-index crop that contains an excellent balance of essential amino acids, fibre, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and is also able to grow under a wide range of environmental conditions,” the scientific team said.

“However, quinoa is still an underutilized crop and breeding efforts to improve its agronomic traits are required to expand its worldwide production,” the scientists stated.

The study was published online on 8 January 2017 in ‘Nature’ journal.

Australian Food News has previously written about the expansion plans for growing quinoa in Western Australia, which is supported by WA government funding.

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