New research could prevent wheat intolerance

Researchers develop tools to detect proteins responsible for wheat allergy

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BETTER WHEAT: CSIRO researcher and ECU Professor of food and agriculture Michelle Colgrave has been leading a project which has identified new tools to help breeders in the fight against wheat intolerance.

BETTER WHEAT: CSIRO researcher and ECU Professor of food and agriculture Michelle Colgrave has been leading a project which has identified new tools to help breeders in the fight against wheat intolerance.

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Research conducted by Edith Cowan University and the CSIRO has resulted in tools which will allow plant breeders to detect the proteins responsible for non-coeliac wheat sensitivity.

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For Australian farmers to receive a premium price they need to target commodities towards what the consumer perceives is a premium product.

While an estimated one-in-ten people suffer from a diagnosed wheat sensitivity, resulting in a wide spectrum of health issues, up to 30 per cent of consumers are believed to avoid wheaten products due to perceived intolerance.

A joint research project conducted by the Edith Cowan University and CSIRO is on track to help develop strains of wheat with reduced allergen potential, following key findings about the proteins responsible for causing non-coeliac wheat sensitivity and bakers asthma.

CSIRO researcher and ECU Professor of food and agriculture Michelle Colgrave said for the last decade the CSIRO had been focused on the auto-immune disorder coeliac disease, where sufferers respond negatively to gluten proteins, however there was a larger portion of the population who suffered from other wheat related intolerance.

"While 1 to 2 per cent of the population suffer from coeliac disease, there is a greater proportion who suffer from sensitivities," she said.

"There are a whole suite of symptoms, such as gut inflammation, which are very similar to what you would get with coeliac disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

"These are issues that are harder to diagnose, and there are a number of compounds that exist in cereals such as wheat, that could trigger these adverse reactions."

Prof Colgrave said rather than focusing on gluten, her team's research involved identifying a new group of proteins, the alpha-amylase/trypsin inhibitors, or ATIs, which are implicated in non-coeliac wheat sensitivities.

"Modern bread wheat has been selected for various traits over time, such as agronomic properties, pest resistance and quality issues, but there hasn't been targeted selection against the potentially adverse health conditions," she said.

"We have developed tools that enable us to measure ATI proteins across the genetic diversity of wheat that exists across Australia and the world.

"Now we have these tools we can look at hundreds, or even thousands, of wheat varieties and determine what levels of the potentially harmful proteins they have."

Prof Colgrave said future research would not be as simple as eliminating the protein group, as ATI proteins play an important role in the plant's natural defence against insect pests.

"An insect gets a tummy-ache when they ingest them, so perhaps its not so surprising that some people do as well, but it has to be a compromise," she said.

"We want to keep the ones that do the job, in terms of pest resistance, but don't cause harm in humans."

Prof Colgrave said the next step in the research was to screen wheat genetic material from Australia and overseas, along with some of the ancient relatives of wheat, to see the levels of the ATI proteins.

"The idea is to deliver premium varieties that farmers can grow, attracting a premium price because they are suitable for an additional 10pc of the population, as well as the estimated 30pc who avoid wheat without a medical diagnosis," she said.

The story New research could prevent wheat intolerance first appeared on Farm Online.

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