Wheat can be made safe for people with coeliac disease by using gene editing

January 28, 2019, Wageningen University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

One to 2 per cent of the population has coeliac disease (CD), an immune reaction to gluten. Wheat grains contain gluten, a mixture of glutenin and gliadin proteins, which build a network that gives wheat bread its unique properties and quality. Most gliadins and part of the glutenins contain immunogenic epitopes, which are the actual trigger of the immune reaction. A gluten-free diet, excluding wheat, barley and rye, is currently the only remedy for coeliac patients. This diet is not easy to adhere to, partly because wheat gluten is added to many processed food products for their viscoelastic properties. In addition, gluten-free products typically require the inclusion of numerous additives to adjust their texture and taste, resulting in products that are often less healthy than gluten-based equivalents, and more expensive. Thus there is a need to develop healthier food products for coeliac patients.

One can now use CRISPR/Cas to remove all gluten genes, which would produce a gluten-free wheat which is interesting for many people who want to eat gluten-free, but it would have an inferior baking quality. In her Ph.D. thesis, Aurélie Jouanin describes an alternative use of gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9 to precisely modify gliadin genes and strip them of immunogenic epitopes, to develop wheat with safe gluten. As a proof of principle she generated wheat plants in which some gliadin genes were modified or removed. These edited wheat plants are not yet safe for CD patients, as there is a large number of gluten genes present in wheat and not all gluten genes have been targeted. She has therefore also developed high-throughput methods to determine which genes have been modified and which remain to be edited in future steps towards a safe wheat variety.

The regulation of gene editing as genetic modification (GM) in Europe is currently a hot topic. She discusses the inconsistency of the European regulation of gene editing in plants by displaying the similarities of mutations in gliadin genes that are obtained using random γ-irradiation mutagenesis and those obtained by targeted mutagenesis using gene editing. The former is being exempted from GM regulation while the latter is being subjected to GM regulation, following the ruling of the European Court of Justice in July 2018. She advises the European Commission to review its position on the matter and to regulate gene editing based on regarding the generated products, and on the innovation principle as part of responsible research innovation initiatives.

Finally, she discusses some recently developed CRISPR approaches that may result in faster development of wheat with gluten that do not cause an immune reaction. The benefits and related to gene-edited wheat with gluten that do not cause an immune reaction are discussed. The requirement for producing and processing these varieties are touched upon. New test methods for need to be developed, since the current gluten-free tests will not be able to distinguish gluten stripped of immunogenic epitopes from regular gluten.

Bianca Rootsaert, managing director of the Nederlandse Coeliakie Vereniging, says, "Many products are excluded from a normal healthy diet when suffering from Coeliac Disease. Coeliacs are struggling on a daily basis with the issue what they can or cannot eat. Gluten-free wheat would be an extreme improvement of the quality of life of coeliacs. It will however be important for coeliacs to distinguish -free wheat from 'normal' , which will lead to stricter regulation of food packaging and ingredient information."

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not rated yet Jan 28, 2019
Wheeee! GMO Gluten wheat! Oh, this will drive the natural/organic folks nuts! I agree that exempting irradiation mutagenesis while prohibiting targeted modification is not rational. I'd much rather have something that was modified in a targeted way instead of something where the whole genome was randomly modified in the search for a desired improvement.

CD-safe wheat would be a nice breakthrough if it can be pulled off.
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2019
This is gonna put the cat among the pigeons. So much for whining about GMOs. Now the Eurofanatics will have to choose between GMOs and letting people die. Celiac disease is no joke.
1 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2019
This would be a bad thing to cross pollinate, with other wheats and possibly reduce or eliminate their gluten. Gluten is important, for those without CD.
5 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2019
I became Gluten/wheat sensitive about 5 years ago, at 55. Most likely had the problem for 10 years prior, but then it got bad. Any wheat at all brings on severe tendon inflammation within 12 hours, goes away in 48 hours after stopping gluten. (doctors call it arthritis...lol) Hope this would help people like me as I do think Wheat sensitivity is overlooked. Also, above, "for many people who want to eat gluten-free" ...For heavens sakes, no one "wants" to eat gluten free, it is a MAJOR pain in the rear, not a "fad" diet. Wheat is in everything. But, death is preferable over gluten symptoms, just to calibrate it for you, was killing me. Doctors did not figure it out, I did.
3 / 5 (2) Jan 29, 2019
CRISPR-Cas9 tools will play a multifarious role in agriculture like editing crops to make them more nutritious, enhanced taste, disease resistant, and less susceptible to drought. CRISPR-Cas9 is a technological advancement that holds the answers to our global food shortage crisis.
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 02, 2019
How are they going to farm and harvest it
jbc61> I became Gluten/wheat sensitive about 5 years ago, at 55.

They have to grow in fields next to other wheat
the normal wheat will cross contaminate it
as will the tractor trailers and factory process's
Then this modified wheat will contaminate normal wheat
Genetically modifying normal wheat
We will all be on a Glutinous free diet

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