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Better beer with better barley

New genetic technologies have revolutionised animal breeding. Now the same technologies and models can be used to better Danish malting barley.

New gene technologies will be used to make Danish malt barley even better. Photo: Colourbox

For many people hot summer days are inextricably linked with a draught of tasty cold beer. There is quite a lot of breeding work needed to produce good beer – but so far, this work has been both expensive and difficult.

In a new project with support from InnovationsFonden, researchers from Aarhus University in collaboration with the plant breeding company, Nordic Seed, will be speeding up the breeding of Danish malting barley. They will develop methods and models that can make the process faster, better and cheaper.

The expectation is that the results can double the earnings from the sale of Danish malting barley on the European market. The secret lies in the use of cutting-edge genetic technologies similar to those that have revolutionised animal breeding.

Researchers at the University of Aarhus have considerable expertise in the development and use of genetic technologies that can provide a more inclusive view of the breeding potential of livestock, and it is this knowledge that is now being developed for use on malting barley. When models are developed, it will be possible to predict how different varieties of malting barley behave under different environmental conditions without having to make expensive and lengthy field trials.

The genetic profile of malting barley

To make a good beer entails that the barley used for this purpose has good malting abilities. Malt is made from germinated and dried barley grain. The quality of the malting depends on the weather, soil conditions and the genetic makeup of the barley – and these factors are also interlinked.

You cannot from just looking at the barley see if it will be good malting barley. It is actually not that straightforward to measure malt quality. Since the measurements are both expensive and laborious, the development of new and suitable barley varieties is a lengthy and costly affair.

The objective of the project is to be able to predict barley malting quality and yield under various environmental conditions by constructing a knowledge base about how the DNA profiles of different barley varieties can be associated with certain barley traits under different environmental conditions. Results from the research may make the breeding process cheaper and more effective.

- Malting quality is highly dependent on environmental factors such as climate and soil conditions, so the development of methods to identify new varieties of barley that perform well under various environmental conditions will be a big step forward, says professor Just Jensen from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Aarhus University.

The three-year project is a collaboration between Aarhus University and Nordic Seed, and has a total budget of 5 million DKK, half of which is financed by InnovationsFonden.

Further information

Professor Just Jensen, Centre for Quantitative Genetics and Genome Research, Aarhus University, telephone: +45 8715 7546, mobile: +45 4082 1680, email: just.jensen@agrsci.dk

Associate Professor Frans Mulder, Laboratory for Biomolecular NMR Spectroscopy, Aarhus University, telephone: +45 8715 5889, mobile: +45 5144 7344, email: fmulder@chem.au.dk

Breeding Manager Ahmed Jahoor, Nordic Seed, telephone: +45 8887 5106, Mobile: +45 2913 4757