Field Notes

Biofortified Wheat Can Increase Nutrition

Is biofortification the best thing since sliced bread? Well, biofortified wheat could certainly make it easier to help some humans get proper nutrition.

Robert Graybosch, PhD, of the USDA Agricultural Research Service explains that about 60% of the world’s population doesn’t get enough iron.

“Fortification is potentially useful as people in many parts of the world don’t consume a balanced diet and their main foods lack minerals,” Graybosch says. “This can be addressed by fortification, the process of adding minerals back to food products. This is done with flours used for bread baking.”

However, some people are hesitant to eat products with what they think might be “weird” ingredients, he adds. Graybosch is trying to naturally enhance the minerals of wheat flours to help people around the world get more iron.

“Biofortification can be done via traditional plant breeding using natural genetic variation or natural mutations, or via genetic engineering,” he says. “If one found a mutation that resulted in more grain iron, and then bred this trait into wheat that was produced and consumed, then we could say the crop has been biofortified.”

Graybosch and his team developed experimental breeding lines of winter wheat. Breeding lines are the first step in the long process of creating a new type of wheat that farmers can grow. The team tried to combine two properties (low-phytate and high-grain protein) without lowering grain yield. Phytate is an antinutrient that prevents the body from taking in some minerals.

Biofortification is a delicate balance. Often, increasing the nutrition causes the overall grain yield to drop. This can lead to the wheat being overall less nutritious and also can hurt farmers’ profits.

Their results show that combining the two traits without any bad effects on grain yield is possible. It increased the amount of zinc, calcium, and manganese humans could get from it. Although more work needs to be done to get it in wheat that can be planted by farmers, the genes can be used to develop more nutritious wheat without sacrificing yield.

The next steps in their research, some of which they already have undertaken, involve breeding these beneficial genes into plants adapted for areas where wheat is grown, such as the Great Plains of the United States.

“It’s important to note that all wheat grown in a specific area is adapted to that area,” Graybosch explains. “Great Plains wheats do well in the Great Plains but not elsewhere. If the trait is of interest in other locations, additional breeders need to start introducing it to their own backgrounds. And they are interested in doing so.”

Graybosch says his journey to this research began because he wanted to devise a project to investigate “the most important nutritional problem facing mankind,” which he learned was likely that people weren’t getting enough iron. He and then-graduate student Jorge Venegas, PhD, started to look for genes that would improve the nutrition of wheat.

“I think anything that can improve food mineral nutrition at low or no cost to the consumer is of value,” Graybosch says. “Anything we can do to improve nutrition worldwide will go a long way toward improving the lives of our fellow earthlings.”

— Source: American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America


Study Finds Hot-Brew Coffee Higher in Antioxidants

In a new study, Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University researchers found chemical differences between hot- and cold-brew coffee that may have health impacts. In particular, the researchers found that hot-brew coffee has higher levels of antioxidants, which are believed to be responsible for some of the health benefits of coffee.

The study, recently published in Scientific Reports, also found that the pH levels of both hot and cold coffee were similar, ranging from 4.85 to 5.13 for all coffee samples tested. Coffee companies and lifestyle blogs have tended to tout cold-brew coffee as being less acidic than hot coffee and thus less likely to cause heartburn or gastrointestinal problems.

The study was done by Niny Rao, PhD, an associate professor of chemistry, and Megan Fuller, PhD, an assistant professor of chemistry, both of whom are coffee drinkers who wondered whether the chemical make-up of cold brew differed from that of hot coffee.

While the popularity of cold-brew coffee has soared in recent years—the US market grew 580% from 2011 to 2016—they found almost no studies on cold brew, which is a no-heat, long-steeping method of preparation. At the same time, there’s well-documented research that hot-brew coffee has some measurable health benefits, including lower risk of some cancers, diabetes, and depression.

While the overall pH levels were similar, Fuller and Rao found that the hot-brew coffee method had more total titratable acids, which may be responsible for the hot cup’s higher antioxidant levels.

“Coffee has a lot of antioxidants; if you drink it in moderation, research shows it can be pretty good for you,” Fuller says. “We found the hot brew has more antioxidant capacity.”

And considering hot and cold brews have comparable pH levels, Rao says, coffee drinkers shouldn’t consider cold brew a “silver bullet” for avoiding gastrointestinal distress.

— Source: Thomas Jefferson University