Low protein wheat for bread making

Nitrogen (N) is the major mineral that determines crop yield, but it is also an important determinant of grain quality, particularly in wheat. It is required for the synthesis of grain proteins, with gluten forming the major protein fraction in wheat grain. Because of the high protein content required for bread making, the requirement for N applied to bread-making wheats may be above the optimum required for yield, by up to 50 kg N/ha. For example, Dampney et al. (1995) reported that to produce grain containing 13% protein, about 60 kgN/ha above the yield optimum was required. N fertiliser is a major cost for farmers, with a high-energy requirement for manufacture and potentially harmful environmental footprint. Therefore, it is important to reduce the requirement for producing bread-making wheat, either by improving the efficiency of N use within the plant or by developing new types of wheat that allow the use of lower protein contents for bread making. This project focused on the latter strategy. It aimed to identify and characterise types of wheat with good bread-making quality at low grain protein content.

Forty wheat genotypes were grown on 6 sites for 2 years, with a sub-set of 30 grown on the same sites for a third year. All were grown in 3 randomised replicate plots and at 2 levels of N fertilisation: 150 kgN/ha (low) and 250 kgN/ha (conventional). This generated over 4000 grain samples that were analysed for protein content. Samples from 4 sites were bulked for detailed analysis, excluding sites associated with technical problems or unusually high or low contents of protein or responses to fertilisation. Whereas all 40 genotypes were studied in the first year, the number was reduced to 30 in year 2 and to 20 in year 3, based on the analysis of the samples from years 1 and 2, respectively. Campden BRI milled the samples and carried out Extensograph and Farinograph analyses of all flours. The mixing and bread-making performances were subsequently determined by 6 commercial partners, who used three different bread-making processes. SE-HPLC analyses of gluten polymer size distribution was determined on all samples from year 1 and the low N samples from years 2 and 3. This comparison showed that five cultivars (called Group 1) performed well at both high and low N and over all three years: Crusoe and Gallant (current UK nabim Group 1), Rumor and Nelson (German varieties bred to show high quality at low grain protein) and Genius (Danish bread-making cultivar). In addition, two cultivars (called Group 2) performed better when grown at low N than at high N: Skyfall (current UK nabim Group 1 cultivar) and Mv Lucilla (Hungarian high protein bread-making cultivar). A comparison between these two groups of cultivars and the whole set of cultivars was carried out focusing on four parameters: grain N, grain protein deviation (GPD), gluten protein profiles by SE-HPLC and dough rheology (R/E) measured by Extensograph. This showed that:

  1. The selected (Groups 1 and 2) wheats had higher %N, GPD, dough elasticity and proportions of glutenin polymers ((%F1+%F2)/(%F3+%F4)) than the non-selected cultivars.
  2. In addition, the Group 2 wheats (which performed better at low N) had higher proportions of high molecular weight glutenin polymers (%F1, (%F3+%F4)/%F1).

Although these cultivars include two German lines bred to perform well at low N, they also include three highly successful recent UK cultivars: Crusoe, Gallant and Skyfall. Hence, modern cultivars, which have been selected for performance in high-input systems, may also perform well under low N inputs.

We conclude that good bread-making performance at low N fertiliser resulted from two factors: efficient translocation of N into the grain and increased proportions of glutenin in gluten, which resulted in greater dough elasticity. Breeding should, therefore, focus on increasing the efficiency of N use combined with high gluten protein elasticity.

Cereals & Oilseeds
Project code:
01 January 2016 - 31 December 2019
AHDB sector cost:
Total project value:
Project leader:
Rothamsted Research (Scientific partner: JIC. Industry partners: Heygates, ADM, Masstock Arable, DSV, KWS, Limagrain, Hovis, Saaten-Union, SECOBRA, Warburton, Whitworth Bros, ATC and Campden BRI)