Next generation of scientists make gluten discovery

September 9, 2015

Professor Rudi Appels with Applecross Senior High School pupils (from left to right) Emma Mezger, Kaleigh Spithoven, Sarah Boon and Woo Kyoung Kim

Professor Rudi Appels with Applecross Senior High School pupils (from left to right) Emma Mezger, Kaleigh Spithoven, Sarah Boon and Woo Kyoung Kim

The next generation of science leaders have been guided by a Murdoch University professor to make a discovery about the proteins in sourdough which could help it to become more palatable for those with gluten sensitivities.

The high school students will present their findings at a prestigious international workshop about gluten after working closely with Professor Rudi Appels, who is 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 sourdough by comparing the protein peaks in normal bread and sourdough in print outs generated by mass spectrometry,” said Professor Appels.

“They found that something in the process of making the sourdough 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 sourdough bread more tolerable for those with gluten sensitivities.

“This means the taste and texture of sourdough 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 Christi College to develop presentations which will be given at the 12th International Gluten Biotechnology (12th IGB-2015) 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.”

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 girls 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 that the girls 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.”

Professor Appels said he hoped the students’ experiences on the project had been enjoyable and many might now be considering pursuing it further at University.

“We undertake many different research projects at Murdoch across a range of topics, and our findings have huge implications for food safety and security internationally,” added Professor Appels.

“With a growing world population and demands for food growing greater all the time, the work of agricultural scientists is becoming increasingly important. We hope this project has helped to convey this to the school students and that we may soon be welcoming the next generation of agricultural scientists onto campus.”

The 12th IGB-2015 takes place between Sunday, September 13 and Tuesday, September 15, at The Four Points by Sheraton Hotel in Perth. The workshop is being run to complement a number of wheat conferences taking place in Australia in September including the International Wheat Conference which takes place at Sydney University from September 16 to 18.

Notes to editors

Murdoch University will also be launching its new Crop and Pasture Science major after the pupils’ presentations.

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