Australian researchers have helped a team of international scientists crack the genetic code of the grain barley, in a development which could lead to the creation of healthier beers and drought-resistant crops.
The researchers successfully sequenced the barley genome, one of the most complex of all the cereals, which could allow scientists to modify the grain through breeding programs.
Professor Rachel 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 told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Thursday.
"This gives us a way to tailor things. So, for example, if you're interested in a low carbohydrate beer for beer drinkers that 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 that 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.
"Barley is the first crop in this tribe to be sequenced in such detail. To put the research into perspective, the barley genome is 12 times larger than the rice genome and more complex."
The breakthrough could also lead to the development of drought-resistant grains, something which could boost the nation's economy. Currently, 30 percent of the world's malting barley comes from Australia and exports are worth more than 750 million U.S. dollars.