Fingerprints for grains

It is possible to use the latest DNA techniques to identify grain varieties, according to research supported by growers through the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

DNA fingerprinting will distinguish between varieties with similar appearance yet different quality and enduse.

The project has been underway for nearly three years at the Queensland Agricultural Biotechnology Centre (QABC), under Plant Biotechnology Program leader, Rob Henry, who is also a member of the GRDC Northern Panel.

"Our long-term aim is to have a robust variety testing procedure that can be used in the field, with computerised identification technology eliminating any possibility of disputing results," Dr Henry says.

All animals and plants that reproduce sexually have differences in their DNA makeup that scientists can identify. "There are very subtle differences in DNA between individual plants growing in a grain paddock, with more significant differences between different types of grain," Dr Henry says.

Applications

He said the practical uses for fingerprinting grains are many.

Barley

The technique is being used to differentiate between two pairs of malting and feed barley varieties for the Australian Barley Board. "The feed barley variety Skiff has been difficult to tell from the malting variety Franklin, while Chebec (feed) is very similar in appearance to schooner (malting), Dr Henry says.

Food processing

The technique can also be used to identify both the type and variety of grain used in processed products, like flour or pet food, knowledge that could have significant value in an industrial situation. "If grain varieties can be tested at receival level, it will have the great advantage of allowing higher-value parcels of grain to be segregated for specific markets."

Bulk handling

Dr Henry says Western Australia's Cooperative Bulk Handling (CBH) is interested in using the technique to identify wheat varieties, a difficult task in Australia, given the large number of varieties grown.

"GRDC has been supporting QABC molecular biologist Lien Ko in researching the development of identification methods, and the Australian Wheat Board has assisted in identifying the most important varieties for study," Dr Henry says.

"Our research relies on the commonly used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique to determine the DNA particular to each individual plant variety under test. Eventually, it will allow a library of DNA fingerprints of grain varieties to be captured and stored for computer reference in the identification of unknown grain samples. Other technologies being developed will produce a simple colour test for variety distinction."

Subprogram 1.3.02 Contact: Dr Lien Ko 07 365 4970

Region North