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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Indigenous Australian grass seeds as grains: macrostructure, microstructure and histochemistry

Abedi, Farkhondeh; Keitel, Claudia; Khoddami, Ali; Marttila, Salla; Pattison, Angela L.; Roberts, Thomas H.


Utilization of grains of local grasses by Australia's First Nations people for food and connection to Country has largely been lost due to colonization. Native Australian grain production has the potential to deliver environmental, economic, nutritional and cultural benefits to First Nations people and the wider community. Revitalization of the native grain food system can only be achieved if relevant properties of the grains are elucidated. This study aimed to characterize the grain structure and histochemistry of four Australian native grasses: Dactyloctenium radulans (Button Grass), Astrebla lappacea (Curly Mitchell Grass), Panicum decompositum (Native Millet) and Microlaena stipoides (Weeping Grass). For these species, as well as wheat and sorghum, whole-grain images were obtained via stereo microscopy, starch and the embryo were visualized, and sections of fixed grains were imaged via bright-field and fluorescence microscopy. The shape, size and colour of the whole native grains varied between the species. The aleurone layer was one-cell thick in the native species, as in the domesticated grains, except for Weeping Grass, which had a two-cell-thick aleurone. In the native grains, endosperm cell walls appeared thinner than in wheat and sorghum. Starch granules in Button Grass, Curly Mitchell Grass and Native Millet were found mainly in the central region of the starchy endosperm, with very few granules in the sub-aleurone layer, whereas Weeping Grass had abundant starch in the sub-aleurone. Protein appeared most abundant in the aleurone and sub-aleurone layers of the native grains, although in Button Grass, the starchy endosperm was observed to be rich in protein, as in wheat and sorghum. As a proportion of the whole grain, the embryo was larger in the native species than in wheat. The differences found in the grain properties among the four native Australian species have important implications for the agri-food industry in a changing climate.Revitalization of native grain food systems in Australia requires knowledge of the structure and composition of grain components so that the grains can be utilized effectively in commercial food processing. We studied the grain morphology of four native Australian grass species that have been used as foods by Aboriginal communities for millenia: Button Grass (Dactyloctenium radulans ), Curly Mitchell Grass (Astrebla lappacea ), Native Millet (Panicum decompositum ) and Weeping Grass (Microlaena stipoides ). We characterized important macrostructural, microstructural and histochemical properties of the grains using stereo, bright-field and fluorescence microscopy. We found differences in the size, shape and colour of the whole grains, aleurone structure, spatial distribution of starch, beta-glucan/cellulose, protein and relative size and location of the embryo among the four native Australian species. Our results should stimulate further research into the connections between the structural, processing and nutritional properties of these grains.


Aleurone; Astrebla lappacea (Curly Mitchell Grass); cell wall; Dactyloctenium radulans (Button Grass); embryo; endosperm; fluorescence microscopy; histochemistry; Microlaena stipoides (Weeping Grass); Panicum decompositum (Native Millet)

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2023, Volume: 15, number: 6, article number: plad071

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