Scientists have developed a wheat that could aid the world’s malnourished millions

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Danish scientists have developed a wheat that increases mineral digestibility. Pic: ©iStock/Olenaa
Danish scientists have developed a wheat that increases mineral digestibility. Pic: ©iStock/Olenaa
Test results found the wheat increases the digestibility of phosphorus, calcium and other minerals in poultry.

Scientists from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University in Denmark, have developed and patented the new type of wheat, called HIGHPHY.

Animal tests​ ​suggest it increases mineral digestibility.

This could be significant to ease malnourishment within developing countries, claim researchers

The wheat has also been found to reduce phosphorus emissions to the environment.

Following many years of research and development, the Danish researchers identified specific cereal genes that affect the availability of vital minerals.

Breaking down minerals

Phytate is a compound that occurs naturally in plants, especially cereal grains, which interferes with the absorption of minerals by the body.

Minerals, like phosphorus and calcium, are often tightly bound in phytate.

The enzyme phytase helps to break down phytate, thus increasing mineral availability.

While phytase is produced by gut bacteria of ruminant animals, monogastric beings, like humans, pigs and poultry, are unable to produce the enzyme.

Cereals contain genes that code for phytase activity but often the activity is not sufficient to break down all phytate compounds.

If humans and animals do not utilize phosphorus optimally, it can affect their growth and health. Additionally, all non-digested surplus is excreted and adversely effects the environment.

Positive results

According to associate professor Henrik Brinch-Pedersen from Aarhus University, the team found the specific genes that control phytase activity.

“Propagation of the wheat took place in Andalusia as it is possible to harvest twice in the growth season there. This meant that we could get twice as much new plant material than if we had propagated the wheat in Denmark,”​ he said.

The wheat was tested on chickens at Nottingham Trent University, UK, and the results published in Animal: An International Journal of Animal Bioscience.

poor people eating bread

The next step will be to test HIGHPHY on humans and Prof Brinch-Pedersen already sees interesting perspectives of the new cereal.

“About 700 million people worldwide suffer from iron deficiency because of the high phytate level of their diets,” ​he said.

“If wheat containing its own phytate-metabolizing enzyme became available, this could significantly improve the health of the population in many of these countries.

“Improved phosphorus digestion in both humans and livestock will also result in reduced phosphorus emissions to the environment.

“In addition, calcium phosphate is a very scarce resource, so if phosphorus becomes more readily available to the animals, we can reduce our use of this important resource,”​ he said.


P and Ca digestibility is increased in broiler diets supplemented with the high-phytase HIGHPHY wheat

Authors: Scholey D, Burton E, Morgan N, Sanni C, Madsen C, Dionisio G, & Brinch-Pedersen H.

Animal, 2017. doi:10.1017/S1751731117000544

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