Having celiac disease meant fewer food options for people with the condition. However, scientists have created a variety of wheat that will not only be safe to eat, but also pave the way for the development of new treatments.
In the United States, more than 2 million people have celiac disease, a condition wherein the body’s immune system reacts negatively to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This means that common food like bread, pasta, and cereal are off the menu for many.
There is currently no treatment for celiac disease. People who have the condition can only avoid food that triggers their symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, fatigue, and depression/anxiety. Some take an enzyme supplement before every meal to avoid feeling sick.
However, researchers might have made a major leap forward for people who have celiac disease. A study published in the January issue of Functional and Integrative Genomics detailed a new genotype of wheat that has built-in enzymes that could break down the proteins that cause adverse effects on the body.
The researchers were able to create a new variety of wheat by introducing a new DNA into the grain. The new variety, they stated, contains enzymes from barley and a bacteria called Flavobacterium meningosepticum. These enzymes have the capacity to break down gluten in the digestive system without triggering an immune response in the small intestine.
The researchers believe that placing the gluten-busting enzyme directly into the wheat has a ton of potential benefits for people who suffer from celiac disease.
“Food made from wheat with glutenases in its grains means people with celiac don’t have to rely on dietary supplements at every meal,” stated Sachin Rustgi, an assistant professor at the Clemson University and lead author of the study. “By packing the remedy to wheat allergies and gluten intolerance right into the grain, we’re giving consumers a simpler, lower‑cost therapy. 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.”