Wheat breeding may have contributed to prevalence of celiac disease

By David Fowler

I just read an interesting article by Van den Broeck et al. published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website.

The article hypothesizes that the breeding of wheat may have contributed to the prevalence of Celiac Disease. Conversely, if gluten has been inadvertently breed in to wheat, it can be breed out.  Scientifically, an interesting idea, but controversial as many feel that genetic modification is what got us into this problem in the first place and there are unknown consequences of reducing or eliminating gluten in wheat.

The article is accessible for non-medical types and a good read. Below is the full abstract and a link to the original tests.

Gluten proteins from wheat can induce celiac disease (CD) in genetically susceptible individuals. Specific gluten peptides can be presented by antigen presenting cells to gluten-sensitive T-cell lymphocytes leading to CD. During the last decades, a significant increase has been observed in the prevalence of CD. This may partly be attributed to an increase in awareness and to improved diagnostic techniques, but increased wheat and gluten consumption is also considered a major cause. To analyze whether wheat breeding contributed to the increase of the prevalence of CD, we have compared the genetic diversity of gluten proteins for the presence of two CD epitopes (Glia-α9 and Glia-α20) in 36 modern European wheat varieties and in 50 landraces representing the wheat varieties grown up to around a century ago. Glia-α9 is a major (immunodominant) epitope that is recognized by the majority of CD patients. The minor Glia-α20 was included as a technical reference. Overall, the presence of the Glia-α9 epitope was higher in the modern varieties, whereas the presence of the Glia-α20 epitope was lower, as compared to the landraces. This suggests that modern wheat breeding practices may have led to an increased exposure to CD epitopes. On the other hand, some modern varieties and landraces have been identified that have relatively low contents of both epitopes. Such selected lines may serve as a start to breed wheat for the introduction of ‘low CD toxic’ as a new breeding trait. Large-scale culture and consumption of such varieties would considerably aid in decreasing the prevalence of CD.

Read the full article http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2963738/

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About David E. Fowler

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