Scientists investigate low-allergy wheat breeds

Tuesday, 21 August, 2018

Scientists investigate low-allergy wheat breeds

Wheat allergy sufferers will welcome the news that researchers have made another step towards breeding low-allergy wheat varieties.

An international team — including Dr Angéla Juhász and Professor Rudi Appels from Murdoch University, and Professor Odd-Arne Olsen from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences — examined proteins with a proven relationship to coeliac disease, occupational asthma (baker’s asthma) or wheat-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis (WDEIA).

Wheat is the world’s most cultivated crop and accounts for almost 20% of the total calories and protein consumed by humans worldwide. However, wheat allergies can be life-threatening, and sufferers are forced to avoid a number of foods such as bread, baked goods, pasta and other foods containing flour.

“Understanding the genetic variability and environmental stability of wheat will help food producers to grow low-allergen food that could be used as a safe and healthy alternative to complete wheat avoidance,” said Juhász, Senior Research Fellow at the State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre.

“We have developed the first complete representation of the proteins related to the different forms of immune response in humans, which has helped us to accurately determine the genetic variability of these proteins and their environmental vulnerability.”

As well as mapping the location of these proteins on the wheat genome, the researchers also highlighted the importance of the environment. They found certain growing conditions impacted the number of proteins triggering food allergies in wheat.

“Climate change and the increase in global temperatures accompanied by more frequent spikes of extreme temperatures can stress crops in a range of ways, and we found this temperature stress changed the expression of the immunoreactive proteins,” Juhász said.

She explained that a cool finish to the growing season resulted in an increase in proteins related to baker’s asthma and food allergies, while high temperature stress at the flowering stage increased the expression of major proteins associated with coeliac disease and WDEIA. She expects the results “will help food producers to identify grains with reduced allergen and antigen content”.

This follows on from the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) recently making a detailed description of the genome of bread wheat publicly available.

As well as breeding lower-allergy varieties, this work will help meet the demands of human population growth — which is predicted to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 — by developing varieties better adapted to climate challenges, with higher yields and enhanced nutritional quality.

The paper was published in Science Advances.

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