The project aims to improve the quality of Norwegian milling wheat in forthcoming years under a changing climate, to secure high and stable use. The project focuses on two critical bottlenecks: 1) The lower-than-optimal protein content and 2) unpredictable variations in gluten quality.
We investigate how frequent rain during maturation can reduce the baking quality. We hypothesize that frequent rain hinders the assembly of glutenin proteins and gives weaker and unpredictable gluten quality. Moreover, fungal proteases derived from pathogenic fungi (i.e., Fusarium ssp.) degrade gluten proteins. The project studies if this also applies to Microdochium ssp.
Three greenhouse experiments (cv. Bjarne) were conducted where different rain regimes during grain maturation were simulated and tested. Prolonged rain increased the moisture of the grains, and the proportion of large glutenin polymers was reduced. However, the polymer size increased when the grain was dried again. Field trials (cv. Mirakel) have been conducted yearly to collect grain samples during the maturation phase to study the assembly of glutenins under naturally occurring weather conditions. The results have shown a steady build-up of the glutenins to large polymers under dry conditions. In contrast, the size of polymers is variable under frequent rain in this period.
In vitro studies showed that isolates of Microdochium majus, Microdochium nivale, and Fusarium avenaceum have the ability to degrade gluten. Three greenhouse experiments were conducted where plants were inoculated with selected isolates at anthesis. The experiment conducted in 2022 indicated that grain inoculated with fungi had weak gluten, especially those inoculated with M. nivale.
The sustainable use of nitrogen to achieve high protein content was investigated using two approaches. One is late-season fertilization strategies, and the other is the identification of high-protein genes to be used in wheat breeding. Field trials with various N-fertilization regimes were conducted (2019-2022), with canopies varying in yield potential. N uptake and biomass development were measured by a hand-held N-sensor and the multispectral UAV/drone platform at NIBIO. The spectral data indicate which N fertilization strategies lead to optimal protein content. Preliminary models show good correlations between sensor data at heading/anthesis and yield or protein content.
Field trials with the core collections of varieties/lines at NMBU and Graminor were carried out in several environments. Yield and protein content were recorded, and Grain Protein Deviation was calculated as a phenotyping trait. Moreover, multispectral vegetative data is collected weekly to measure nitrogen uptake, which is crucial for nitrogen use efficiency. The phenotyping data are used in QTL analyses to identify high-protein genes in backgrounds giving high yields under Norwegian conditions. Several significant QTLs found from the study are now under validation.
The Ph.D. candidate is investigating genetic variations in the ability to give stable gluten quality under variable weather conditions through historical data. The development of a phenotyping method for the stability of gluten quality is ongoing, which can be used in QTL analyses.
In line with the project’s goal to invigorate cooperation within the value chain, yearly quality assessments aiming to predict the baking quality for the new harvest and dissemination of the results to the industry partners are a central point of this objective. For the 3rd year in a row, the 2022 season also displayed strong gluten quality with high protein content, leading to smaller differences between wheat quality classes. In addition, winter wheat revealed stronger gluten quality and higher protein contents than expected. This results in an overall lack of wheat with weak gluten and lower protein content. These topics, in combination with the current challenges in the world market situation, are part of ongoing discussions with relevant partners in the value chain.
In the summer, we invited our international partners to Norway and arranged the “Wheat Quality” workshop. The workshop was open to the public, and researchers and students from Nofima, NMBU, and NIBO, as well as industry partners, attended the workshop. Breeding, cultivation, baking quality, and the health aspect of wheat were presented and discussed at the workshop. Besides the seminar, we had a meeting with the partners to discuss the results obtained from the project and further work.
The main objective of the project is to develop knowledge needed to produce wheat with good and stable bread-making quality under challenging climatic conditions, thereby securing high self-sufficiency of bread wheat. In the last decade, Norwegian wheat has had lower-than-optimal protein content and unpredictable variations in gluten quality; two factors that represent important bottlenecks for the use of Norwegian wheat in flour blends.
To reach the project goal, the following critical R&D questions will be addressed: Do infections by microorganisms and/or precipitation during grain maturation affect assembly or degradation of gluten proteins? Can we develop a screening method for gluten degradation suitable for breeders samples? How do fungal proteases in flour affect the baking process? Can optical spectral sensing be used to improve late-season fertilization to achieve optimal protein content while maintaining high yield? Can high-protein genes be identified in Norwegian wheat to increase utilization of available nitrogen content while maintaining high yield? Is there a genetic basis for biotic and abiotic factors affect gluten protein assembly and degradation?
The MATHVETE project will generate new knowledge that will strengthen the competitiveness and cooperation throughout the entire bread wheat value chain from farmers to bakers. Expanded knowledge of environmental factors and genes that cause variation in gluten quality and protein content will 1) provide new strategies for wheat breeding to simultaneously improve protein content and gluten stability, 2) enable targeted measures for farmers to improve grain quality through selection of favorable wheat varieties and improved agronomic practices through efficient use of nitrogen, 3) provide predictable quality for grain deliveries and milling companies and thereby limit the need for import, and 4) supply bakers with stable quality flours based on a high proportion of domestic wheat.