To more fully understand the differences among industrially produced “whole wheat” products and those produced on a smaller scale using different milling technologies—and what actually comprises those products—Community Grains brought together a science committee of interested parties, which first convened April 2011. This became a foundational meeting for us, and set, at least in part, Community Grains’ agenda going forward.
In attendance were top scientists in the field (Prof. Bruce Ames, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Prof. Russell Jones, Plant and Molecular Biology, both of UC Berkeley; Dr. David Killilea, Associate Staff Scientist, Nutrition and Metabolism Center, CHORI); a best-selling journalist specializing in food issues (Prof. Michael Pollan, Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism); a leader in artisanal baking (Craig Ponsford, founder of Artisan Bakeries and Chairman of Bread Bakers Guild of America); and a commercial miller (Joseph Vanderliet, President of Certified Foods); along with Bob Klein (co-owner/managing partner of Oliveto Restaurant and President of Community Grains.
Joe Vanderliet, with many years of industrial milling experience before he started his more advanced, smaller milling company, confirmed our suspicions that most of the “whole grain wheat” we find in the grocery store has germ removed and most probably not fully replaced. Then it was Michael Pollan who said we need a test. Biochemist David Killilea said he could do that by isolating wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), a protein marker within the germ, then, using antibodies, measuring the amount present in a sample. Plant Biologist Russell Jones confirmed that that would do it.
A server at the restaurant studying to become a nurse, and a Public Health student of Michael Pollan’s, became the first lab techs for the project. Later, there were more interns, and still later a small paid staff. Community Grains invested about $500 for supplies and $10,000 for facilities. However, Dr. Killilea did not receive a salary or honorarium for developing this test. Community Grains did not control any aspect of experimental design or reporting of the results.
Dr. Killilea’s work demonstrates the effectiveness of measuring whole grain using WGA. The tests were performed on products purchased at local supermarkets and were tested well within their best-by dates. (A more robust test would have tested the same products from many supermarkets in different parts of the country.)
The publication of Dr. Killilea’s study is milestone for us, but new questions and challenges are ahead.