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Code-breakers crack barley secrets to brew better beer
Brace yourselves, beer lovers, a better brew is on the way now that a team of international scientists, including researchers from WA, have cracked the genetic code of barley.
Murdoch University professor Chengdao Li, who led the WA-based group, says the findings would be used to modify crops so they can adapt to climate change, avoid disease and yield better beer.
He says the work took 10 years to complete because the genetics of barley was incredibly complex, equal to about twice the size of the human genome.
“Australia is the largest malted barley exporter, so we can use the science to enhance competitiveness in the international market,” he said.
“We identified key genes that help the brewing — fermenting genes — and will continue studies in how to improve these genes to make better beer.”
By mapping two of the grain’s seven chromosomes, Professor Li said researchers will be able to “tell the barley what to do”, including being tolerant to drought and heat.
It will take about five to eight years to improve beer using genetically modified crops, he added.
WA produces the most malting barley in Australia, with exports from the State in 2014-15 valued at close to $1 billion.
WA’s Department of Agriculture and Food was also involved in the research and is already using the genetic information to target blue discolouration in some strains of barley.
About 60 per cent of the barley exported from WA is sent to China and the Middle East as grain to feed to livestock, and 40 per cent is used as malt for brewing beer.
In a global context, Australia makes up over 40 per cent of the world’s malting barley and about 20 per cent of barley used as feed.
A bumper crop last year saw Australia surpass the EU as the world’s biggest exporter of barley for 2016-2017, but this is expected to be a one-off.
Rice was the first crop to be cracked by scientists, which Prof Li said was about 12 times less complicated than barley.
He said the international team, which also included scientists from China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the US and the UK, would have a beer to celebrate.
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