Gluten discovery excites next generation agricultural scientists

Monday 14 September, 2015

Western Australia’s potential next generation of agricultural science leaders have been guided by a Murdoch University professor to make a discovery about proteins in sour dough which could help it to become more palatable for those with gluten sensitivities.

The high school students will present their findings at the 12th International Gluten Biotechnology workshop (12th IGB2015) held this week after working closely with Professor Rudi Appels, one of the world’s leading wheat genome experts.

The project by four year 11 students at Applecross Senior High School in Perth, has provided some novel insights into the proteins which are associated with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

“The students have been analysing the proteins in sour dough by comparing the protein peaks in normal bread and sour dough in print outs generated by mass spectrometry,” said Professor Appels.

“They found that something in the process of making the sour dough reduced the presence of key proteins and have hypothesised that by getting rid of these proteins through processing technologies, there might be a way of making sour dough bread more tolerable for those with gluten sensitivities.

“This means the taste and texture of sour dough would not be compromised like it can be with certain gluten-free bread products.”

Professor Appels has also been collaborating with 36 year 10 students at Rossmoyne Senior High School and four year 12 students at Corpus Cristi College to develop presentations which will also be given at the 12th IGB2015 workshop on Monday, September 14.

They will also present on their investigations into the proteins associated with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

“The pupils will share their projects which measured chemical residues in grain storage, surveyed food products for chemical residues and discussed how insects in stored grain can be controlled,” added Professor Appels.

“They have all worked very hard throughout this project and we hope we have impressed upon them the importance of agricultural sciences to their own every day eating habits and those of people around the world.”

The 12th IGB2015 workshop is supported by Murdoch University, the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) and the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) and takes place from September 13-15 in Perth. The workshop is a leading global event for grain quality researchers and industry stakeholders focused on better understanding the highly publicised issue of gluten.

Applecross Senior High School science teacher Aniela Wooldridge said it was fantastic to hear her pupils discussing their ideas for further research.

“The fact that the students came up with their own hypothesis, tested it and were able to reflect on those results made the scientific method come alive in way that is hard to replicate in a school environment,” she said.

“The research direction they took enabled them to address a real world problem and possibly identify the beginnings of a solution.”

Rebecca Johansen, science teacher at Rossmoyne Senior High School, added that the experience of presenting at the workshop would be invaluable for her pupils.

“They have been given the opportunity to explore ideas and discover concepts they would not have been able to do within normal curriculum work,” she said.

“They have also been able to see the relevance and importance of scientific research from a real life perspective. It is not just an idealised concept anymore.”