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Climate Change Could Lead To Smaller Bread, Experts Say

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Experts have found that climate change might also affect the size of bread that will be produced in the future because carbon dioxide affects the amount of protein in flour.

Part of climate change is the elevation of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which scientists found may affect the size of the wheat plants. Australian researchers particularly found that it is the amount of protein in the wheat that would cause this event.

The study was conducted through the collaboration of the government of Victoria and the Melbourne University. The researchers baked loaves of bread, altering the carbon dioxide levels in each sample, based on the predicted carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by 2050, as stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The researchers used grain harvested in December and later found that the finished bread products were far flatter and smaller than the current bread sizes people are enjoying at present.

The scientists of the Australian Grains Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment facility in Victoria further explain that although the size modification of wheat may be more efficient in terms of utilizing water, the quality of the grain may be compromised.

"As atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide goes up, it reduces the nitrogen levels in plants and leaves and that reduces the protein in the grain," says Dr. Glenn Fitzgerald, study lead author and senior researcher for the state government of Victoria. "The protein in the grain affects the proteins in the flour and it leads to changes in the elasticity and strength of the dough." The bread does not increase in size as it usually does so it does not exhibit the same volume as the breads today, he told The Telegraph.

The amount of protein in the grain is set to reduce anywhere from 2 percent to 14 percent if carbon dioxide levels increase as anticipated, Fitzgerald noted. Increased carbon dioxide levels reduce the amount of nitrogen in plants, which in turn reduces the amount of protein in the grain and affects the protein and elasticity of the flour.

Fitzgerald was asked if the team was able to taste the sample breads of 2050. He admitted that they did not and that the breads are for scientific research purposes only, so there is no information on whether the taste was also affected by the changes in the wheat quality.

Future endeavors of the team include investigating if the negative effect of protein decline may be avoided by choosing other types of wheat in baking breads. The process is quite long as generating a new trait of wheat may take 10-15 years to complete, but if the target date is 35 years from now, then there is time to conduct tests, Fitzgerald said.

Photo:  Emily Carlin | Flickr

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