Wheat products, and in particular, wholegrain products, are important sources of dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and other components which are beneficial for human health. Analysis of a diverse range of wheat varieties within the HEALTHGRAIN project of the European Union has shown substantial variation (up to four-fold) in the content and composition of these components. Furthermore, a significant proportion of this variation, particularly for dietary fibre content, is highly heritable and hence can be exploited by plant breeders to produce new types of wheat with enhanced health benefits.
Genomics tools developed enabled to identify markers for dietary fibres, tocopherols and sterols. These markers can be used in breeding programmes to cumulate genes for enrichment of bioactive compounds, particularly those present in exotic, unadapted germplasm, for adaptation in lines or varieties useful in practical agriculture. Molecular marker assisted selection was used to develop f.ex. wheat varieties with high amylose content.
A major limitation to exploiting this variation is the lack of rapid and affordable analytical systems. New tools (including NIR calibrations, antibodies and molecular markers) are therefore being developed which are appropriate for use by plant breeders, grain traders and processors and the food industry. The programme is therefore providing benefits to consumers, plant breeders and the wheat processing chain.