26 November 2006

How'd I like my pasta? Wild, apparently

According to the University of California, Davis, adding the gene GPC-B1 to domesticated wheat raises the levels of protein & “micronutrient” content in the grains by 10 to 15%.

Interference experiments on standard wheat crops have chopped these factors by 30% simply by masking GPC-81 alone. It also delayed maturation by several weeks.

This year, US growers are trialling the repaired crops to check for problems like loss of yield or quality. Presuming that this works well, the genes will be replaced in general seed stores also.

the research team was surprised to find that all cultivated pasta & bread wheat varieties analyzed so far have a nonfunctional copy of GPC-B1, suggesting that this gene was lost during the domestication of wheat.

This has highlighted the value of genetically storing “obsolete” varieties of crops:

this discovery provides a clear example of the value & importance of conserving the wild germplasm — the source of genetic diversity — of our crop species.

Wheat accounts for about a fifth of the calories eaten by us, & of course it is fed to meat animals as well. That’s a fair chunk of our input from just one crop.

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