German researchers seeking better wheat varieties are studying wheat sensitivity. Photo: CC-- Takuma Kimura

Celiac.com 07/01/2016 - Between five to ten percent of Germans may suffer from wheat intolerance. These people suffer immune reactions when they eat wheat and other cereals such as spelt, rye, and barley. They suffer symptoms including diarrhea, fatigue, psychological disorders, and worsening of chronic inflammatory diseases. They may have celiac disease, wheat allergy, and non-celiac-non allergy wheat sensitivity (NCWS).

Now doctors and biomedical and agricultural researchers at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the University of Hohenheim have joined forces to study these disorders, especially NCWS.

They are gearing their research towards the breeding of new types of wheat that lack these disease causing properties, while maintaining favorable characteristics, such as good baking properties and palatability.

The researchers have three main aims. Firstly, they want to find out how the content of wheat proteins called alpha-amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATI's) has naturally evolved in the various wheat varieties. For this purpose, they are looking at whether there are differences in ATI content in older and newer varieties, the extent to which this is genetically determined in each variety, and whether environmental influences play a role.

They also hope to establish exactly how many proteins belong to the family of ATIs in the wheat varieties examined and which of these proteins mainly cause the immune response. The harvested samples are thus being analyzed for ATI content by genetic and proteome methods, while human cell lines are being used to evaluate their immune system-activating effects in the laboratory. Lastly, the scientists hope to be able to establish how far ATI content affects baking properties and palatability, evaluating the wheat variants on the basis of standard quality criteria.

Finally, and outside of the current proposal, "we plan several proof-of-concept clinical studies with patients that suffer from defined chronic diseases to assess how far a significant reduction of ATIs in the diet, for example by approximately 90 percent, may improve their condition," said Schuppan.

The goal over the medium term is to use the findings to breed new varieties of wheat that sensitive population groups will better tolerate. "We thus need to get the balance correct and create wheat varieties with a low ATI content that still have good baking properties and palatability," concluded Longin.

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