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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    John Hawks Explores the Evolution of Celiac Disease

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Photo: CC--IvanWalsh.com

    Celiac.com 11/06/2013 - Some researchers have questioned whether celiac disease may have arisen as a side effect of recent genetic adaptations since the domestication of wheat about 10,000 years ago.

    Photo: CC--IvanWalsh.comIn his keynote address at the 2013 International Celiac Disease Symposium in Chicago, John Hawks spoke about the history of celiac disease and how he is using that history to explore the responses of complex gene networks to environmental changes during recent human evolution.

    Specifically, Hawks is "looking at how human genes evolved in the recent past to get an idea of how those genes work, especially in complex phenotypes."

    The risk of developing celiac disease has strong genetic factors, many are a function of immune system molecules called human leukocyte antigens, or HLAs.

    HLAs are one of the most variable gene systems in the human genome, with more genetic variants in the modern human population than any other type of gene.

    These molecules dot cell surfaces and help the immune system distinguish friendly particles from potentially dangerous pathogens.

    According to Hawks, as populations grew more dense after the rise of agriculture, infectious diseases likely became a more serious issue, which led to a situation where the positive effects of a strong immune system outweigh any negative effects such as autoimmune reactions.

    Hawks and former graduate student Aaron Sams recently published evidence of changes in other, non-HLA genes related to celiac disease risk.

    However, recent data suggest that the genetics of celiac disease may not be the result of recent evolutionary pressures and changes, but more likely, Hawks says is "characteristic of much more ancient humans."

    Hawks and others continue to explore how functional networks of different genes respond to environmental changes.

    Hawks hopes to look bring this approach to other autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes.

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    The HLA haplotype containing the DQ2.5 gene, which 90% of celiacs have, is 70,000 years old and has been extremely resistant to any change or fragmentation, according to Wikipedia articles. Wheat was first hybridized from two wild grasses and cultivated 10,000 years ago. Celiac disease was named by an Ancient Greek physician. I have no problem believing that the wheat culture was human folly and a mistake at it's inception, and that the desire on the part of many gluten sensitive people to wish that the cultivation of wheat has changed it (other than to produce more than 500 times the gluten concentration) and that we can somehow produce a safe wheat is just further proof that we become addicted to our poisons, particularly when the most poisonous foods are most enjoyed together, as in pizza and cake, for example.

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    The HLA haplotype containing the DQ2.5 gene, which 90% of celiacs have, is 70,000 years old and has been extremely resistant to any change or fragmentation, according to Wikipedia articles. Wheat was first hybridized from two wild grasses and cultivated 10,000 years ago. Celiac disease was named by an Ancient Greek physician. I have no problem believing that the wheat culture was human folly and a mistake at it's inception, and that the desire on the part of many gluten sensitive people to wish that the cultivation of wheat has changed it (other than to produce more than 500 times the gluten concentration) and that we can somehow produce a safe wheat is just further proof that we become addicted to our poisons, particularly when the most poisonous foods are most enjoyed together, as in pizza and cake, for example.

    Thank you for the added information, Michael. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment.

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  • About Me

    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 2,000 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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