Rothamsted Research and University of Reading
Peter Shewry leads a research programme at Rothamsted Research on the development, structure and composition of wheat grain focusing on improving the quality for processing and human health. His current interests include understanding the structures of grain proteins and their roles in determining functional properties and increasing the dietary fibre content of white flour by exploiting genetic variation.
He is the author of many refereed papers, major reviews and book chapters, has edited or co-edited 19 books (including the 4th edition of Wheat: Chemistry and Technology) and has recently co-authored the book Wheat: Environment, Food and Health (Wiley, 2022).
In 2000 he was awarded the Thomas Burr Osborne medal by the AACC, in 2002 was the joint recipient (with Donald Kasarda) of the Rank Prize for Nutrition, and in 2016 the Clyde H Bailey medal by the ICC.
The first International Wheat Gluten Workshop, held in Nantes in 1980, came at a key turning point in the analysis of wheat gluten proteins. The application of electrophoresis, initially in 1959, had provided information on the complexity and polymorphism of the gluten protein fraction while the application of biophysical methods provided information on its structures and properties. However, we had little understanding of the detailed structures and relationships of the individual proteins with only short N-terminal sequences of a few selected gluten proteins being available.
The development and application of “omics” technologies starting in the 1980s, notably methods for the cloning and automated sequencing of complementary and genomic DNA and high sensitivity mass-spectrometry-based proteomics, subsequently led to an explosion in our knowledge of the sequences of gluten proteins and other wheat grain proteins. There is no doubt that the vast volumes of data generated by these approaches has contributed to increased understanding of the functional properties of the proteins. However, our understanding is still far from complete with models and theories that were proposed as a basis for discussion and investigation being widely accepted as established dogma.
I will briefly summarise progress in wheat protein analysis over the past 40 years, identifying limitations in our current understanding and suggesting how these can be studied experimentally. In particular, I will focus on two topics: the structure, assembly and functional properties of wheat glutenin polymers and the structures of puroindolines and their role in determining grain texture.