Unlocking the secrets of healthier rice

Swinburne scientists are using the CLS to examine grains of black rice, helping identify and produce safer and more nutritious varieties

By Swinburne Institute of Technology

Black rice in a bowl

Dr Vito Butardo (pictured far right) is using cutting-edge technology to address global food security and safety with members of his research team, Qurrat Ain, Arash Jamalabadi and Achini Herath (back left to right).

Swinburne University of Technology scientists are using the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan to examine individual grains of rice to help enhance global food security, nutritional value and the food safety of cereal grains.

By rapidly estimating the nutrient profile of hundreds of varieties of coloured rice, the research will help produce rice that is more nutritious, and lead to more positive health outcomes in the developed and developing world.

Lead researcher Dr Vito Butardo says the findings can be applied across a range of grains – wheat, barley, oats and corn, for example – to create more nutritious crops around the world.

‘Our research can be used immediately by Australian and international manufacturers to help consumers make healthier choices when buying, cooking and eating rice,’ Dr Butardo says.

‘Over time, we can select and breed rice that has a lower glycaemic index (GI), higher concentration of micronutrients – like iron and zinc – and fewer nasties – like lead, mercury or cadmium.’

Using the light of one million suns

The Canadian Light Source, a facility known as a synchrotron, accelerates electrons in a close loop magnetic field to produce light brighter than a million suns.

This global connection allows Dr Butardo to utilise the power of the synchrotron facility from halfway around the world, as his work can be remotely controlled in his lab in Melbourne, Australia, to determine the nutritional and safety profile of grains. His work harnesses several CLS beamlines. 

Regular biochemical analysis involves turning rice grains into powder and can take hours or days to obtain full results.

Detailed analysis by the synchrotron can take just minutes, allowing Dr Butardo’s team to analyse the nutrient-rich surface of hundreds of grains and help determine the exact location of the health promoting compounds in rice.

This pioneering, non-destructive and high-throughput approach has already yielded results demonstrating the high nutritional value of coloured rices over white rice.

Dr Butardo says the research has broad application across underfed and overfed rice-consuming communities.

‘Understanding coloured grains better will help us create food that is more nutritious for everyone, whether it be ensuring the underfed are getting a good balance of macro- and micronutrients, or helping the overfed boost micronutrient intake, which can be a problem for overweight and obese individuals,’ he says.

The research is conducted in collaboration with Associate Professor Tobias Kretzschmar of Southern Cross University and is supported by AgriFutures Australia and the Australian Research Council, with the International Rice Research Institute providing the varieties of rice for testing. 

Qurrat Ain, Arash Jamalabadi and Dr. Vito Butarto in a Swinburne lab.

This work is not yet published, and Dr. Butarto is doing ongoing work at the CLS for this research. 

Swinburne Institute of Technology prepared the original version of this story, which can be found here.

Media Relations:

Victoria Martinez
Communications Coordinator
Canadian Light Source