Food Futures Institute

Making barley the world’s ‘super grain’

Murdoch researchers are leading the world in their quest to make a better barley grain. What they’ve discovered is delivering sustainable agriculture and superior beer.


Areas of research

Barley, Agriculture, Genomics

Technology utilised

Genomic Sequencing

Lead Researcher

Professor Chengdao Li


What was the need for this project?

Australia is a dominant player in world barley markets, representing around 40 percent of the international malting barley trade. Western Australia produces close to half of that. It’s also a crucial and growing part of our diets.

In the future, Australians will increase their reliance on both grain-based foods and grain fed meat. Research centred around increasing both yield and quality of barley is central to that.


How the project was completed

The first step in Professor Li’s mission to develop better barley was to establish its DNA profile. The complex barley genome has 5.1 billion genetic letters, as opposed to the human body which has 3.6 billion genetic letters. So, the process of mapping the DNA was incredibly involved.

His Western Barley Genetics Alliance team cracked that code and developed a barley variety identification test, which uses DNA fingerprinting technology to determine the identity and purity of Australian barleys.

The team then used DNA-based technology – genomics-assisted breeding – to select the ideal genes for breeding for specific traits.


Results and achievements for this project

The benefits of cracking the DNA code and combining all of the best traits into one variety could include everything from improving the yield and quality of WA malt and feed barley production, to assisting with food production in developing countries and improving food biosecurity.

This breakthrough is underpinning breeding projects of new grains that will help secure supply into the future as farmers gain crops that can adapt to frost, drought, climate change and myriad of other environmental conditions. It’s also delivering ideal genes responsible for cloud and sediment - improving both the shelf life and appearance of beer.


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