Mini-base for maximum quality by Alec Nicol

Dr Ferenc Bekes' machine, able to mill and test as little as 2 grams of flour, is now used in breeding programs around the world.

IN A feat akin to writing the Lord's Prayer on a single grain of rice, a CSIRO researcher unlocks the truths about dough quality and strength from a single grain of wheat.

Working with specially designed equipment, Ferenc Bekes is able to mill and test as little as 2 grams of flour. He describes his work as being valuable in the "pre-breeding stage of assessing germplasm and in working in-vitro with flour where genetic modification may have been used to introduce new, desirable traits".

The sophisticated equipment was developed by his team in response to a need for small-scale analysis. The very first machine, commercialised by an American company, is now used by plant breeders around the world to test samples of around 10 gm of flour.

"That's about the smallest level where the breeder could be confident that the selected line will breed true for the characteristics under test," Dr Bekes said.

"But we've gone further than that. An Australian company is now looking to commercialise a family of three machines and we have ideas for an all-in-one unit that will mimic the instruments used to test the mixing properties and dough strength, and to measure its ability to absorb moisture.

"We're about five years ahead of the rest of the world in the development of this micro-testing which could supply breeders with vital information on the characteristics of germplasm before they elect to introduce it into a breeding program."

The testing machines" supported by growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC, are being used in projects to identify the molecular markers associated with quality characteristics of wheat. The project involved testing literally hundreds of lines of wheat and the ability to test tiny amounts of flour for its quality characteristics speeded up the whole process.

Program 1 Contact: Dr Ferenc Bekes 02 9490 8437