We are using mass spectrometry (MS) and proteomics to help identify key proteins that will benefit Australia's livestock and plant industries, and improve human health.

The challenge

Understanding proteins to produce better and safer food

Proteins form the basis of all living tissues and are key to all biological processes. Proteins are required for structure, function and regulation in all organisms, from bacteria and fungi to plants, animals and humans.

The study of proteins (called proteomics) has most frequently been used to study health and disease. Now it is being used to answer questions relating to food quality, safety, allergenicity, bioactivity, and to develop healthier food products.

Our response

Safer and better quality food

We can use proteomics to detect allergens or bacteria that cause disease in food. In this way, we can ensure the food we eat is safer. We can also look for proteins in food that deliver health benefits. By increasing the levels of these bioactive proteins it is possible to provide food products that help to prevent disease, improve health or alleviate health conditions.

A female scientist puts a sample into a machine to analyse it

Dr Michelle Colgrave analyses protein samples using mass spectrometry.

For example, proteomics has been used to support the development of Kebari®, an ultra-low-gluten barley suitable for coeliacs and those with gluten intolerance. Using mass spectrometry, barley varieties showing the lowest levels of gluten were chosen for breeding.

Understanding the role of proteins in complex biological systems

Using mass spectrometry, we can measure single proteins to understand how different conditions, such as stress or disease, affect their expression. With next generation proteomics, we now have the ability to examine the impact of proteins on the entire biological system. This means we can now go from questions and samples to biological answers.

For example, we can alter the amount of an important protein in wheat so as to enhance baking quality. We can also explore how changing the amount of this single protein affects all other proteins and pathways in the wheat grain.

Proteomics into the future

Proteomics is a rapidly evolving area, primarily because of recent developments in modern analytical instrumentation and bioinformatics.

We can now analyse proteins with unprecedented speed, accuracy and detail. The advent of fast, affordable, and convenient genome sequencing will open up even more opportunities for applying proteomics to the food and agricultural sciences. These advances will make it possible to understand the mechanisms underpinning complex traits, such as environmental tolerance, pest resistance, yield enhancement, and food quality, paving the way for a safe and sustainable future for the agriculture and food industries.

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