Plant breeders of the Wisconsin-Madison University have developed a new oat variety called BetaGene, which is 2% higher in beta glucan and therefore even more cardio-friendly than other oat varieties on the market.

John Mochon, program manager of the Small Grains Breeding Program in UW-Madison’s agronomy department explains:

“The biggest thing that stands out about this new variety, BetaGene, is that it’s both a high yielding variety and high in beta glucan. Beta glucan is a heart-healthy chemical that is exclusive to oats.”

On average, BetaGene is 2% higher in beta glucan than other oat varieties on the market. This is a significant increase in terms of nutritional value, as a 2% increase translates into a 20% boost in beta glucan levels in products made from the oat.

According to nutrition experts, beta glucan is comparable to a sponge that soaks-up cholesterol-rich acids in the bloodstream. A study by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service revealed that in conjunction with a healthy diet, consuming just 3 grams daily of BetaGene, which is also soluble, could decrease LDL cholesterol levels, i.e. the ‘bad’ cholesterol and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

The UW breeders expect to release the new variety for the 2014 growing season and have also increased their acreage this year in anticipation.

With approximately 300,000 acres of oats grown each year, Wisconsin is amongst the top oat-growing states. Half of the harvested oats are used as forage and to feed livestock, whilst the remainder is harvested for grain, yielding on average 60 to 70 bushels per acre.

Mochon explains that because other crops produce better returns and other market forces have made growing oats less profitable has resulted in a steady decline in oat acreage in the US over the years, saying:

“That’s why I’m trying to add value to oats. It’s one of my goals to reverse that trend. Things like increased beta glucan, developing forage lines, developing lines that are rust resistant, and developing lines that have a high groat percentage are all part of this effort.”

BetaGene has already generated some interest in the food industry and Mochon hopes that the new variety will help to raise the demand for oats. One large milling company already visited Wisconsin to learn more about the experimental variety.

Developing the new variety to this stage has taken UW breeders 14 years.

They followed the standard procedure for vetting experimental crop varieties, and performed the original cross in 1998 before the oat was nurtured in variety trials until the breeders were confident that it was ready for growers. Mochon states that the process takes between 12 to 15 years in order to provide evidence that the variety yields well, is able to fend off disease and has a proven track record for success before it can be considered for release.

In terms of the BetaGene there was also an international aspect involved. The new variety needs to meet requirements to become certified and licensed in Canada, as Canada is a big producer of oats and a very important potential market.

Written By Petra Rattue