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Strategies to improve wheat for human health


Despite their economic importance and growing demand, concerns are emerging around wheat-based foods and human health. Most wheat-based foods are made from refined white flour rather than wholemeal flour, and the overconsumption of these products may contribute to the increasing global prevalence of chronic diseases, particularly type 2 diabetes and obesity. Here, we review how the amount, composition and interactions of starch and cell wall polysaccharides, the major carbohydrate components in refined wheat products, impact human health. We discuss strategies and challenges to manipulate these components for improved diet and health using newly developed wheat genomics tools and resources. Commercial foods developed from these novel approaches must be produced without adverse effects on cost, consumer acceptability and processing properties.

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Fig. 1: Schematic showing the origin of white flour produced by milling wheat grain.
Fig. 2: Structures of the main polysaccharides present in white flour.
Fig. 3: Predicted timeline for the development of an elite cultivar with increased resistant starch using TILLING versus gene editing.
Fig. 4: Strategies to manipulate the amounts, structures and properties of grain polysaccharides and expected health outcomes.


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Rothamsted Research, the John Innes Centre (JIC), NIAB and Quadram Institute Bioscience (QIB) receive grant-aided support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) of the UK. The work at Rothamsted, the JIC and NIAB forms part of the Designing Future Wheat strategic programme (BB/P016855/1) and Molecules from Nature programme (BBS/E/J/000PR9799) and the work at QIB part of the Food Innovation and Health strategic programme (BB/R012512/1) and its constituent projects BBS/E/F/000PR10343 (Theme 1, Food Innovation) and BBS/E/F/000PR10345 (Theme 2, Digestion in the Upper GI Tract).

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Correspondence to Peter Shewry.

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Hazard, B., Trafford, K., Lovegrove, A. et al. Strategies to improve wheat for human health. Nat Food 1, 475–480 (2020).

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