In a statement, the university said that although fundamental, wheat is simultaneously seen as "a villain" for "causing undesirable changes in the body", such as allergies and food intolerances.
"At issue is the composition of wheat, which can be modulated by the microbiota [intestinal flora]," he points out, explaining that, as part of the European Wheatbiome project, researchers will focus on the microbiota to "get to a new food", based on the fermentation of wheat.
In an initial phase, the team will study the microbiota of wheat in the soil and plant to try to understand how immunogenicity [the ability to trigger an immune response in the body] and how the nutritional quality of this cereal is affected.
In a statement, researcher and co-coordinator of the project, Rosa Perez-Gregório, clarifies that the expressions of proteins in a plant can "depend on the crop, the variety of wheat and where it is produced".
"The same variety of wheat produced in different locations, for example, in Portugal and the Netherlands, may have different nutritional quality and amount of immunogenic protein. What we want to evaluate is how the microbiota and the interaction of the soil and plant microbiota that can modulate this process," exemplifies the researcher of the Chemistry and Technology Network (REQUIMTE) at FCUP.
Researcher Susana Soares also added that after being characterised, the team can use the "microbiota of the entire plant or parts of it to create a new food".
Noting that wheat is "one of the most sustainable crops there is," with researchers saying this could "make it even more sustainable."
In addition to making this cereal more sustainable, another of the objectives of the project is to use the microbiota to regulate agricultural practices, passing this knowledge to farmers and other entities involved in the wheat production chain.
"If we know the best biotic and abiotic conditions that affect the microbiota and the quality of wheat, we can try to get wheat grown in other European countries, which helps reduce Ukraine's dependence by fostering local and more sustainable agriculture," the researchers add.
At the same time, the project also aims to reintroduce the by-product of the new food into the food chain, as in animal feed.
During the project, 'in vitro' studies will be carried out to understand the best growing conditions and the best varieties to bet on, and later a pre-selection of products that go to the 'in vivo' phase is planned.
In addition to the soil and plant, the human microbiota will also be studied.
"We want to see how the bacteria inside this food interact with our body and with our own microbiota," explains researcher Rosa Perez-Gregory.
The Wheatbiome project is funded by more than €5 million by the European Commission and will develop over the next four years.
In addition to the REQUIMTE of FCUP and GreenUPorto, NOVA Medical School and 13 European entities from countries such as Spain, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Poland and Hungary are part of the project.