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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Can Researchers Use Gene-Editing to Make Gluten-Safe Wheat?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Imagine wheat with the good baking qualities of standard wheat, but with the offending gluten proteins removed so it is safe for people with celiac disease. Will strict EU gluten rules permit it?

    Can Researchers Use Gene-Editing to Make Gluten-Safe Wheat? - Image: CC--Steve Jurvetson
    Caption: Image: CC--Steve Jurvetson

    Celiac.com 02/11/2019 - Researchers have shown that CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology can be used to remove epitopes from gliadin protein in gluten. These molecules trigger the adverse immune response seen in people with celiac disease. However, will Europe’s strict GM rules prevent this discovery from being used to create new gluten-free products for people with celiac disease?

    Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in the UK, have shown that CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology can be used to remove epitopes from gliadin protein in gluten. Gluten contains an assortment glutenin and gliadin proteins. Most of these gliadins and many of the glutenins contain immunogenic epitopes that trigger an immune response in celiacs, but others do not trigger such a reaction. 

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    As part of her PhD thesis, scientific researcher, Aurlie Jouanin, has shown that CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology can be used to remove certain epitopes that trigger celiac reactions.

    The research team did not remove all gliadin proteins from their wheat samples, which means that the wheat plants in this case were not safe for celiacs, but Jouanin found a way to spot both the genes that changed, and the ones that still required modification. Jouanin’s research suggest that it’s possible to remove just the gliadin epitopes that can trigger celiac disease.

    If just the offending epitopes can be removed, or altered, then the gluten proteins will not trigger the adverse immune response common in people with celiac disease, then it would be possible to make all kinds of products containing this safe gluten.

    Moreover, by allowing select, non-offending gliadins to remain in the bread, the result would likely be bread that is both safe for celiacs to eat, and which also has improved characteristics that are associated with traditional non-gluten-free bread.

    The result could be a win-win for people with celiac disease who are looking for improved gluten-free and gluten-safe great products. According to Bianca Rootsaert, director of the Dutch Coeliac Association, “gluten-free wheat would be a great improvement in the quality of life of celiac patients.”

    What do you think? Would you be excited to try products made from wheat that had been treated to remove celiac-triggering gluten proteins? Share your thought below.

    Edited by Jefferson Adams

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    No way would I try this. WHy are scientists so intent on pushing wheat onto people whom wheat makes unwell!


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    59 minutes ago, BilliB said:

    No way would I try this. WHy are scientists so intent on pushing wheat onto people whom wheat makes unwell!


    My whole point with this, going gluten free was a 180 from a death bed and bucket list to slowly gaining my health back. I got nerve and brain issues with (scary). Heck going grain free and paleo (the diet of our ancestors we are genetically evolved to eat)....SO much better.

    Why spend millions of dollars trying to make a crop we should not be eating anyway safe for a niche market it makes deathly ill more so? WHY not use the money to try fixing humans? I mean we have enough genetic issues that need to be addressed like the genes that gave us this disease. In my case the gene reasonable is also the one for my uclerative colitis, and makes it likely for me to end up with RA and T1 diabetes. I want that edited out of my genome.

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    Wheat is one of the most versatile grains known (see all the stuff that has wheat in it and for all the different reasons) and a huge player in areas where not much else will grow and thrive, so I understand why it gets the attention it does. 

    I'd be very interested in seeing where this research goes.  I don't know enough about genetics to know the role these epitopes play, but if they've evolved into an unnecessary part of the organism and/or the wheat can be altered without problems it would be a boon for Celiacs and all the other associated folks with gluten issues.  I'd be particularly grateful because I'm discovering more and more that the 20ppm threshold is probably way too high for me... . :(

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    2 hours ago, etbtbfs said:

    Don't find much merit in this idea.  Humans weren't designed to eat grasses.  Besides, in America, hybridized dwarf wheat is often sprayed with glyphosate to cure it for harvesting, so this crap can't possibly be made safe to eat anyway.

    Not to stir up a hornet's nest, but this is a point that I think really needs clarifying:


    Glyphosate has been demonized with no good science behind it - sadly, the good science is getting no press and now is most likely going to be too late to change minds.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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