A NEW super wheat containing high levels of iron has been developed by scientists at the John Innes Centre of plant science and microbiology.
According the Norwich-based JIC team, white flour made from the engineered wheat contains twice the typical amount of iron, something that cannot be achieved by normal breeding, and could help alleviate problems of iron deficiency in people around the world.
Dr James Connorton, working with Dr Janneke Balk and Dr Cristobal Uauy, used the recently published wheat genome to locate two genes within the plant responsible for the transport of iron, and then used one of these to direct more iron into the endosperm, the part of the grain from which white flour is milled.
Naturally occurring in wheat, iron is largely found in the outer parts of the grain, the aleurone layer and the seed coat. Unfortunately, these parts of the grain are removed during production of white flour, resulting in low levels of iron in the final product.
Commenting on the research Dr Balk said: “This breakthrough means that higher levels of iron from the wheat itself could replace added iron in everyday items such as white flour and breakfast cereals, helping the estimated 1 billion people that suffer from iron deficiency worldwide.”
The wheat research forms part of a wider programme of research at the John Innes Centre, “Molecules from Nature”, which aims to identify beneficial traits and markers in plants and microbes for use by industry.