In a development which could lead to the creation of healthier beers and drought-resistant crops, a team of Australian researchers has cracked the genetic code of the grain barley.
The researchers sequenced the barley genome, one of the most complex of all the cereals, which could allow scientists to modify the grain through breeding programmes, Xinhua news agency on Thursday quoted researcher Rachel Burton as saying.
Burton from the University of Adelaide said cracking barley's genetic code was a "major achievement" which could lead to healthier beers and lower beer production costs.
"If you can make barley that's better for malting then that's going to help with energy costs at the brewery, that's got to be good for the planet," Burton said.
"If you're interested in a low carbohydrate beer for beer drinkers who don't want the calories, then you may be able to tailor your malt earlier on to make your beer less fattening, I suppose."
Burton said her team was able to successfully experiment with malted barley which ferments cleaner and, therefore, brews beers more efficiently.
"One of the things that we're very interested in is how quickly the walls (of the barley's cells) break down (to release the sugars)," she said.
"If you can think of barley grain that breaks down those walls efficiently … you will release lots of the starch and get a good fermentation.
"But the remnants of wall when they go into the brewery they will be sticky and that can block the filters up in the brewery which adds to the cost.
"So if you can find varieties where you get quick and complete degradation of cells walls … that may be better for brewing."
Meanwhile, Murdoch University's Professor Chengdao Li said Australian researchers had played a vital role in the research, adding that barley was one of the most complex grains to study.
"Cereal crops, including bread wheat, durum, barley and rye, have some of the most complex genetic histories among the world's cultivated species," he said on Thursday.
The breakthrough could also lead to the development of drought-resistant grains, something which could boost the nation's economy.
Currently, 30 per cent of the world's malting barley comes from Australia and exports are worth more than $750 million.