A Wheat You Can Eat? Gene Editing Could Lead to Wheat Safe for Celiacs

Wouldn’t it be great if there were such as thing as wheat that was safe for people with celiac disease? Then they would be able to eat products containing wheat, which they are now advised to stay away from.

Such a wheat might be possible, according to a new report from Germany. The key is what is known as CRISPR technology, which has been getting increasing attention in the news. CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a technique used in genome engineering whereby it’s possible to edit genes by cutting DNA at precise locations. The idea of using CRISPR in wheat comes from the work of Aurélie Jouanin, Ph.D., a research scientist at  KWS group in Einbeck, Germany, a firm that specialized in developing high-performance seeds for farmers.

It’s already possible to develop a gluten-free wheat with all the gluten genes removed, but the wheat thus produced would not be suitable for baking. Jouanin’s recently published Ph.D. thesis explains how to use CRISPR technology to target and modify certain genes with precision and to then determine which genes have been modified and which remain to be edited.

The wheat would not be entirely free of gluten, but the gluten would have been modified in such a way that it would not contain what are known as immunogenic epitopes, which are parts of molecules that provoke an immune response.

The technology is complex and has yet to be refined, but Jouanin points out that some recently developed CRISPR techniques have illuminated a path toward its fulfillment. She adds that when such a wheat is developed it will need to be tested on humans to confirm that it does not provoke an immune response. The wheat might not be gluten-free exactly, but for people with celiac disease it would be just as welcome.

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