Scientists from Washington State University (WSU), Clemson University and partner institutions in Chile, China and France were able to alter the wheat genome to create a new variety with built‑in enzymes designed to break down the prolamin proteins, dubbed gluten, that cause the body’s immune reaction.
The news broke shortly after Dutch scientists revealed they were able to modify wheat gluten using modern biotechnology to make it safe for celiac sufferers and people intolerant to gluten.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, it is estimated to affect one in 100 people worldwide, with almost three million Americans undiagnosed and at risk for long-term health complications.
The researchers introduced new DNA into wheat, developing a variety that contains two enzymes: one from barley that attacks gluten and the other from the bacterium Flavobacterium meningosepticum.
These enzymes – called glutenases – break down gluten proteins in the digestive system.
Simulating the human body’s digestive tract, scientists tested gluten extracts from the experimental grain and found the amount of celiac disease-provoking gliadin peptides had reduced by as much as two thirds.
Their discovery, published in Functional and Integrative Genomics, opens the door to new treatments for celiacs and for new wheat crops.
Sachin Rustgi, assistant professor of molecular breeding at Clemson University and adjunct assistant professor with WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, heads the project.
“By packing the remedy to wheat allergies and gluten intolerance right into the grain, we’re giving consumers a simpler, lower-cost therapy,” he said.
“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.”
“Food made from wheat with glutenases in its grains means people with celiac [disease] don’t have to rely on dietary supplements at every meal.”
The project was launched at WSU in 2012, where the initial wheat varieties were developed. Detailed biochemical analysis was then done at Clemson University in South Carolina.
As most wheat products are baked at hot temperatures, Prof Rustgi’s team is now developing heat‑stable variations of these enzymes.
Once finalized, the scientists want to educate growers to teach them about the plant and the best conditions to grow them.
The program is a key part of Clemson’s efforts to optimize plants for production in South Carolina and the Southeast for agricultural stakeholders who work with heirloom varieties for the food and beverage industry.
It is being supported by grants from the Clemson Faculty Succeeds program and the National Institutes of Health.
Development of wheat genotypes expressing a glutamine-specific endoprotease from barley and a prolyl endopeptidase from Flavobacterium meningosepticum or Pyrococcus furiosus as a potential remedy to celiac disease
Authors: Sachin Rustgi, Claudia E. Osorio, Nuan Wen, et al.
Funct Integr Genomics (2019) 19: 123