Genomics for Sustainable Grain, Tasty Beer

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville is perhaps best known for applying genomics to cancer-fighting research, but its newest effort improves grain yields in wheat.

The center has worked with the Land Institute of Salina, Kansas, to sequence the kernza genome and apply genomics to improve grain yields for the wheat variety. Kernza is promising because it’s a sustainable perennial wheatgrass, meaning farmers don’t have to clear and replant fields after every harvest. 

Besides its promise as an excellent bread flour, the grain has also gotten the attention of the outdoor adventure company Patagonia, which has partnered with Hopworks Urban Brewery to create Long Root Ale, the first beer made with kernza. 

“The future of farming lies in organic regenerative agriculture, which restores soil biodiversity, sequesters carbon and efficiently grows crops without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, ” according to Patagonia’s website. “Ecologically, perennial grains are superior to annual grains because they retain more nutrients and carbon, and can better utilize rainfall. Kernza thrives without tilling, which helps prevent erosion.”

Thus far, the beer is available at Whole Foods stores on the West Coast but Alabamians eagerly await the opportunity to sample organic, regenerative ale.

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Text by Dave Helms

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