- Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland have identified a gene in barley that functions to resist drought. Their study was published in the journal Plant Physiology and Biochemistry. The research was funded by the Scotch Whisky Association.
- The gene — known as HvMYB1 — helps regulate stress tolerance in transgenic barley by showing enhanced relative water content and a reduced water loss rate when compared to control plants, researchers said. The study was challenging because barley has more than 39,000 genes, which is nearly double the number humans have, according to FoodBev.
- This finding could help producers of cereal grains — including barley, wheat, maize and rice — to deal with drier climates as the effects of global warming increase, FoodBev reported. Peter Morris, the lead researcher, told the publication that greater variation in the gene pool and more drought-resistant crops could result.
As climate change continues to impact the supply, barley in particular could be harmed by increasing drought and heat, according to a study published this past fall. The result might be yield losses, less supply, and potentially higher prices for beer — with U.S. consumers seeing a 34% estimated price jump, the report said.
While this latest study focused on barley because of the funding from the Scotch Whisky Association, it could also be significant for producers of other grains that are used in a wide variety of foods and beverages such as beer, cereal, flour, baked goods and other CPG products.
Other manufacturers such as Post, Kellogg or General Mills use large quantities of cereal grains and would benefit if the research can be replicated beyond barley to wheat, corn and rice. Crops that can better resist drought and heat are likely to use less water and provide more sustainable — and potentially more affordable — supplies of these commodities in the future.
Such studies, along with the recent drought-resistant gene research, could pressure food and beverage manufacturers to focus more on sustainability practices in their operations. Some are already doing that. AB InBev, for example, announced in January its partnership with a gene-editing company to develop more productive and sustainable barley varieties using less water.
Consumers increasingly view sustainability as an important factor when they're making purchasing decisions. According to 2018 research from Indiana University, most beer drinkers would pay more for products made with sustainable practices.