Celiac.com 08/28/2013 - Researchers at Washington State University are 'very close' to developing celiac-safe wheat strains, says lead project researcher Diter von Wettstein.

Photo: CC--jayneanddRich Koenig, associate dean and director of WSU Extension, says the wheat project involves removing the gluten material that causes the adverse reaction in people who have celiac disease.

Von Wettstein says that his team has developed wheat hybrids that have 76.4 percent less gluten proteins than conventional strains, and that the next step is to eliminate the remaining percentage.

Von Wettstein is working two distinct angles on this project. The first approach uses genetic modification, while the seconds does not. He acknowledges that doing it without genetic modification "would be better…But in the end, if the only way to do this is through genetic modification of wheat, it could still be a major advancement for people who suffer from that disease."

The projects may still take a while as von Wettstein works to identify, selectively silence and remove the responsible genes.

One caveat is that even if the project is successful, the wheat may not produce flour suitable for baking, though Koenig says that producing wheat suitable for people with celiac disease would be, nonetheless, an "important subsection of wheat production"

Funding for von Wettstein's research is coming from The National Institutes of Health and Washington State's Life Science Discovery Fund.

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