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Agricultural Research Service

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Wheat Texture is Determined by Two Proteins

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
May 26, 1998

Wheat breeders are a step closer to developing super-soft or other custom-designed wheats, thanks to a key discovery by Agricultural Research Service scientists. That could mean cookies that melt in your mouth better or new kinds of pasta for consumers.

Researchers at the ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory in Pullman, Wash., identified the molecular basis for one of wheat's most important qualities: texture, known as hardness or softness. Bakers use hard wheats to make bread and soft wheats for cookies and cakes.

Scientists have known since the 1970's that one gene controls wheat texture. The gene directs wheat to make proteins called puroindolines. But until now, they haven't understood the relationship between puroindolines and hardness.

ARS researchers found that specific types of puroindolines (known as pinA and pinB) correlate perfectly with wheat texture.

All soft wheats, including wheat's wild ancestors, have pinA and a specific form of pinB. This pinB has glycine as the 46th amino acid in the protein. Scientists tested more than 200 North American hard wheats. Most differ from soft wheat by a single amino acid, serine, as the 46th amino acid in pinB. The rest of the hard wheats have the glycine pinB but don't have pinA.

Breeders can use this information to develop new varieties with specific puroindoline combinations, using either traditional breeding or biotechnology.

By adding extra genetic copies of puroindolines, for example, they might create a super- soft wheat to make new kinds of cakes and cookies. That's because millers could grind the softer wheat to a finer flour than is possible today without damaging the wheat's starch, a common milling problem.

A report on these findings appears in today's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (abstracts are available at

Scientific contact: Craig Morris, USDA-ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory, Pullman, WA 99164, (509) 335-4055, fax (509) 335-8573,

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