Good news for celiacs! Scientists have genetically modified wheat making it free from the types of gluten that trigger celiac disease. This means that sufferers might finally be able to enjoy tasty wheat-based snacks.
Gluten refers to proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is important in baking as it forms elastic chains, maintaining the structure of baked goods as they rise.
Celiac disease affects about 1 percent of people. It’s an autoimmune disorder triggered when gluten is eaten. The affliction comes with a range of nasty symptoms from stomach pains, diarrhea, and vomiting to headaches and iron deficiency. It can even lead to bowel cancer and brain damage.
Together celiac disease and gluten sensitivity affect over 7 percent of people in the western world. A problem when it’s found in so many of foods that we eat.
To combat this issue, researchers from the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in Cordoba, Spain, decided to engineer a brand-new type of wheat that leaves out the gluten. Their findings are published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal.
The team used a technique called CRISPR/Cas9 to remove the genes in wheat that make gliadins – the gluten proteins most likely to cause the celiac response. This was no mean feat as there are 45 copies of the main gliadin gene, but the scientists have already gotten rid of 35. They need to keep working to remove all the genes, but what they’ve created so far has given some positive results, successfully making baguettes and rolls.
“It’s regarded as being pretty good, certainly better than anything on the gluten-free shelves,” Jan Chojecki of PBL-Ventures, who wants to market products made with the wheat, told New Scientist.
The researchers are already testing their new wheat on small numbers of celiac patients. “All I can say is that the results are very encouraging,” Chojecki said.
Gluten is a bit of a hot topic at the moment. More and more people are declaring themselves gluten-free and giving up products that contain it. Self-diagnosis is rarely a good thing, and only about 16 percent of people who think they can’t eat gluten actually have a problem.
Despite what fashionable diet trends suggest, avoiding gluten isn’t actually good for you. In fact, it can even increase your risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
Often when people claim they feel better for giving up gluten, it has nothing to do with gluten itself. Instead, they’ve just switched to a healthier diet, replacing pizza and cake with fresh veg. So if you think you might be reacting to gluten, go to the doctor rather than turning to faddy health blogs for medical advice. It's much harder for a doctor to diagnose you as celiac if you've already cut it out of your diet.