Mining the A.E. Watkins Wheat Landrace Collection for Variation in Starch Digestibility Using a New High-Throughput Assay

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Breeding for less digestible starch in wheat can improve the health impact of bread and other wheat foods. The application of forward genetic approaches has lately opened opportunities for the discovery of new genes that influence the digestibility of starch, without the burden of detrimental effects on yield or on pasta and bread-making quality. In this study we developed a high-throughput in vitro starch digestibility assay (HTA) for use in forward genetic approaches to screen wheat germplasm. The HTA was validated using standard maize and wheat starches. Using the HTA we measured starch digestibility in hydrothermally processed flour samples and found wide variation among 118 wheat landraces from the A. E. Watkins collection and among eight elite UK varieties (23.5 to 39.9% and 31.2 to 43.5% starch digested after 90 min, respectively). We further investigated starch digestibility in fractions of sieved wholemeal flour and purified starch in a subset of the Watkins lines and elite varieties and found that the matrix properties of flour rather than the intrinsic properties of starch granules conferred lower starch digestibility.