U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version


Document Type



Agricultural Research January 2002


That oatmeal you ate for breakfast this morning is loaded with healthful compounds known as antioxidants. They help to protect your body from damage caused by molecules known as free radicals. Oats, for instance, are rich in the antioxidants alpha-tocopherol and alpha-tocotrienol.

But what if tomorrow’s oats could provide even more of these health-imparting compounds? That’s a goal of ARS oat researchers at laboratories in several states. Aiding this research is an invaluable tool of modern biotechnology. Known as biomolecular markers, gene markers, or DNA markers, these pieces of genetic material are signposts or clues. They are telltale indicators that, for example, the specific oat plant under scrutiny indeed contains the gene or genes for producing impressively high levels of antioxidants or other prized traits.

ARS scientists at Aberdeen, Idaho, and Madison, Wisconsin, are narrowing down the search for DNA markers linked to genes that unerringly indicate a high level of antioxidants in oats. Their studies suggest that superior oats for the future could have significantly more antioxidants than most conventional varieties. Similarly, they plan to use marker-assisted technology to greatly increase the amount of protein that oats can add to your breakfast. This work by scientists at the Aberdeen and Madison laboratories, done in collaboration with nutrition researchers, should greatly enhance the health benefits of tomorrow’s cereal quite a bit.