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Wheat that fights celiac disease
New wheat genotype is safe for consumption for people with celiac disease

Researchers at Washington State University have created a new, genetically distinct variety of wheat that is safer for people with celiac disease, opening the door for new treatments and healing potential for the staple grain.

Body’s adverse reaction to protein

For more than two million U.S. people who suffer from celiac disease, traditional staples like wheat bread and pasta are off the menu.

With celiac, the body’s immune system reacts when we eat gluten — the protein that gives breads, pasta and cereal their chewy, crunchy texture — causing nausea, cramps, malnutrition and other health problems. There is no treatment for celiac, other than avoiding foods made with wheat or eating an enzyme supplement with every meal.

Working together, scientists at Washington State University, Clemson University, and partner institutions in Chile, China and France developed a new genotype of wheat with built in enzymes designed to break down the proteins that cause the body’s immune reaction.

Their discovery, published in Functional and Integrative Genomics, opens the door to new treatments for celiac and for new wheat crops with a built in defense against the disease.

Engineering a therapy, direct to the grain

The scientists introduced new DNA into wheat, developing a variety that contains one gluten-busting enzyme (or glutenase) from barley and another from bacteria Flavobacterium meningosepticum. These enzymes break down gluten proteins in the human digestive system.

Simulating the human body’s digestive tract, scientists tested gluten extracts from the experimental grain and found that it had far fewer levels of the disease-provoking proteins. The enzymes reduced the amount of indigestible gluten by as much as two thirds.

These new wheat genotypes open new horizons for treating celiac disease through enzymes in the grains and food we eat, while increasing agricultural potential for the staple grain.

“Food made from wheat with glutenases in its grains means people with celiac don’t have to rely on dietary supplements at every meal,” said lead author Sachin Rustgi, assistant professor of molecular breeding at Clemson University and adjunct assistant professor with WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. “By packing the remedy to wheat allergies and gluten intolerance right into the grain, we’re giving consumers a simpler, lower cost therapy. We’re also reducing the danger from cross-contamination with regular wheat, as the enzymes in our wheat will break down that gluten as well.”

The project was launched at WSU, where the initial wheat varieties were developed. Detailed biochemical analysis was then done at Clemson University. Since most wheat products are baked at hot temperatures, Rustgi’s team is now developing heat stable variations of these enzymes.

The new, biotech genotype is still at the research stage and has not been approved for sale.

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EDITORS' CHOICE  
COLUMNS  

APBN Editorial Calendar 2019
January:
Taiwan Medical tourism
February:
Marijuana as medicine — Legal marijuana will open up scientific research
March:
Driven by curiosity
April:
Career developments for researchers
May:
What's cracking — Antibodies in ostrich eggs
June:
Clinical trials — What's in a name?
July:
Traditional Chinese medicine in modern healthcare — Integrating both worlds
Editorial calendar is subjected to changes.
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