It's no surprise to hear that many people who consume a typical wheat-based Western diet don't get enough fiber. They could, of course, change their eating habits, but now they may not have to. Scientists from Australia's CSIRO research center have developed a new type of wheat that has 10 times the amount of fiber as its normal counterpart.

The project started in 2006, as a collaboration between CSIRO, French company Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients, and the Grains Research and Development Corporation. The researchers initially identified two enzymes that when reduced in wheat, increase the amount of a polysaccharide known as amylose.

"From there, we used a conventional breeding approach, not GM techniques, and managed to increase the amylose content of wheat grain from around 20 or 30 per cent to an unprecedented 85 per cent," says CSIRO's Dr. Ahmed Regina. "This was sufficient to increase the level of resistant starch [a type of dietary fiber] to more than 20 per cent of total starch in the grain compared to less than one per cent in regular wheat."

Regina adds that resistant starch, which is largely lacking in Western diets, improves digestive health, protects against the genetic damage that precedes bowel cancer, and helps combat Type 2 diabetes.

Spinoff company Arista Cereal Technologies is now marketing the technology, and has licensed it to US-based Bay State Milling Company. That company in turn contracted farmers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington to grow about 400 hectares (988 acres) of the wheat, which will be marketed as HealthSense high fiber wheat flour.

In Australia, Arista has partnered with an agricultural company to develop high-amylose wheat varieties suitable for different regions.

"Wheat is the most popular source of dietary fibre and eaten by 30 per cent of the world's population," says Regina. "Having a wheat with high levels of resistant starch enables people to get this important fibre without changing the type of grain they eat or the amount of grain-based foods they need for recommended dietary levels."

Source: CSIRO

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