Washington State University researcher Diter von Wettstein is working toward developing gluten-free wheat varieties safe to eat for people who have Celiac disease. His research that was first fully funded in 2008 is reaping success that could have gluten-free wheat being produced in about 10 years. It would be classified as a genetically modified wheat.  

Currently, the only treatment for people who have Celiac disease is to adopt a gluten-free diet, eliminating all wheat, rye and barley-based foods. Making such a diet more difficult, gluten is also used as a filler or binder in many additional food and non-food items, such as deli-meats, licorice, medicines, vitamins and even the adhesive on stamps and envelopes.

Von Wettstein and his team have discovered a fully viable, lysine-rich mutant which lacks gliadin-type proteins in barley, showing the way to make Celiac-safe wheat. Lysine is an amino acid essential for an optimal diet, but typically deficient in wheat.

Recent research reports note that the team has been able to eliminate about 75 percent of the gluten proteins from some wheat grains, but the goal is to remove all immunoreactive gluten proteins. The expectation is for wheat without gluten proteins that also continues to contain desired properties for taste and baking to be developed within two more years. That still means seven to nine years of field testing and regulatory approval before a biotech GMO wheat could be grown commercially.

Von Wettstein’s team originally partnered with Arcadia Biosciences, a biotech company based in Seattle to identify specific mutations in genes affecting the gliadin-type prolamins in gluten protein. Specifically, it is the gliadins that cannot be digested and eventually cross the intestinal wall, causing a damaging T-cell response to the intestinal lining. Fortunately, it has been shown that eliminating the gliadins does not compromise wheat’s baking qualities.

“Creating new cultivars of wheat, arguably the most important crop grown, having increased lysine and lacking gliadins will be of tremendous benefit not only for sufferers of Celiac disease, but for all consumers of wheat and wheat products,” said Von Wettstein.

Major information included in this report came Washington State University.