MANDAN, N.D. — Celiac disease (CD) is a real and serious autoimmune condition that has gained a lot of attention in the past few years. Reputable medical organizations have determined that CD is prevalent in about 1 of every 100 people worldwide. However, the over-simplified explanation that “gluten causes CD” has hurt the reputation of wheat and wheat foods. There is a subtle but significant difference that demonstrates gluten alone does not cause CD and a recent NDSU study showed, new wheat varieties are not responsible for increased diagnosis of celiac.
The gluten in wheat, essential for the elastic texture of dough, is composed of two separate proteins: glutenin and gliadin. Glutenin and gliadin are divided into distinct compounds, which in turn are made up of specific peptides. A genetic predisposition to celiac must exist in individuals before the presence of certain gliadin and glutenin peptides may trigger an immune response that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine. Yet, some bloggers, authors, doctors and others are making claims that modern breeding practices have changed wheat protein chemistry, resulting in a higher concentration of immunogenic peptides in modern wheat compared to historical wheat varieties, and that this is contributing to increased incidence of celiac disease.
To test this hypothesis, the ND Wheat Commission funded a study, led by Dr Senay Simsek, NDSU, in collaboration with other NDSU scientists to study the protein chemistry of 30 HRS wheat cultivars released in North Dakota in the last century to determine the presence of celiac disease-initiating-peptides.
In the qualitative analysis the presence of 15 immunogenic peptides were found, but the presence of these peptides is not related to the release year of cultivars, and the peptides appeared randomly. Dr Simsek’s team specifically tracked two prominent immunogenic peptides. The results supported previous findings. That is, the amount of peptides varied randomly across years that were analyzed, and there is no correlation between release year and number of immunogenic peptides.
Thus, overall, this study demonstrated that modern HRS wheat is not higher in terms of CD immunogenicity compared to historical HRS varieties.
With global demand for wheat remaining quite strong, and world consumption continuing to grow, there is continued need to develop new varieties that have resistance to the latest disease threats, and to improve both yield and end-use qualities. It is good to know varieties available today are improved over historic varieties, yet their basic genetic structure is essentially unchanged. There is no difference.
The research team at NDSU in addition to Dr Simsek, included Dr Steven Meinhardt, Plant Pathology and graduate student Maneka Malaigoda. The team plans to submit the complete study to a peer review journal in the future.
— North Dakota Wheat Commission
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