Improving the safety of wheat grain

Improving the safety of wheat grain through crop management strategies is being investigated as part of a research project that utilises an innovative piece of laboratory equipment.

Rothamsted Research PhD student Joe Oddy is exploring different strategies to reduce asparagine content in wheat, an amino acid that leads to processing contaminant acrylamide. Acrylamide forms in certain starchy foods during cooking, such as toast and crisps, and the darker the product the more carcinogenic compound it contains.

As part of his research, Joe has been measuring variables within the wheat seed, to evaluate their correlation with asparagine content. To do this, he has been using the SeedLab in CHAP’s Digital Phenotyping Laboratory at Rothamsted Research, a bespoke AI-driven seed analyser.

Joe said: “If we can identify specific variables within the seed, we can predict higher levels of asparagine content in certain batches of grain and lower in others. This will be highly useful for downstream applications, an example being milling – helping millers to select the optimum grain.

“For this research, I’ve been using wheat seed from field trials here at Rothamsted, fed with and without sulphur. This is important because sulphur deficiency is known to cause a spike in asparagine.

“This was then analysed using the SeedLab, which took a variety of measurements to assess variables with a view to creating an end model.”

Not only does the SeedLab analyse samples using spectral imaging technologies and machine learning algorithms, but it also sorts seed with its robotic arm. For small seeds such as oilseed rape, it can analyse up to 2500 per minute, and for larger such as maize, up to 200 per minute, depending on the complexity.

Reducing asparagine content in wheat grain would lower consumer exposure to acrylamide, helping the food manufacturing industry to comply with vital regulations. To learn more about Joe’s PhD project, visit here: ‘Crop management strategies for low asparagine grains to limit acrylamide-forming potential’.

To learn more about CHAP’s Digital Phenotyping Laboratory, visit here.