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Wheat Gene May Provide Better Nutrition for Children

Researchers have cloned a wheat gene that increases protein, zinc, and iron in the grain.

Scientists at the University of California-Davis and the University of Haifa in Israel have cloned a gene from wild wheat that may offer a solution to nutritional deficiencies affecting hundreds of millions of children.

The gene increases grain protein and micronutrient content - including zinc and iron content - by 10 to 15% in studies so far. Researchers have found a nonfunctional copy of the gene in all commercial pasta and bread wheat varieties studies so far. Since the cloned gene comes from wild wheat, this suggests that the gene was lost during the domestication of wheat long ago.

"As a major crop across the globe, providing 20% of all calories consumed by humans, any improvement in the nutritional value of wheat would have substantial health benefits for much of the world's population," says Gale Buchanan, USDA under secretary for Research, Education and Economics. USDA helped to fund the wheat research.

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