Pasta, bread, crackers: Supermarket shelves are lined with products made from wheat. And that's not necessarily a good thing. When wheat is highly processed, the body converts its starches into sugar, potentially contributing to obesity and diabetes. Now a team of researchers has engineered a new variety of the grain that avoids those drawbacks by holding onto its starch as fiber.
Starch consists of a mix of two kinds of molecules: amylopectin and amylose. Amylopectin is a branched molecule that remains fairly soluble in the digestive tract, allowing enzymes to break it down quickly into sugar. The long chains of glucose that make up amylose, in contrast, form clumps that resist digestion. Plant breeders have successfully created corn with less amylopectin and more amylose, which has been marketed as health foods because the body is less able to turn it into sugar.
The starch level of wheat has been tougher to manipulate. But recently, a team led by Matthew Morell of CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra, Australia, has discovered which genes impact starch formation in an experimental variety of wheat. When they damped down the expression of two of these genes, called SBEIIa and SBEIIb, the relative amount of indigestible amylose in the starch rose to almost 75%, compared to 25% in typical grain. "We were pretty excited," says Morell.
Cool. But can they do it for Oreos?
I guess it just goes to show that whatever problem lazy, indulgent Americans come up with, science will always bring a solution.