The new strains are treated to remove around 90% of proteins called gliadins, thought to be the main culprit behind the symptoms seen in celiac disease.
According to the researchers, the new strains, which still contain a small quantity of gluten, can still be used to bake bread amongst other products.
“Bread from the genetically modified (GM) wheat can be suitable for those who simply want to reduce the intake of gluten,” said Dr Jan Chojecki, managing director of PBL Ventures, the business start-up and mentoring arm of Plant Bioscience Limited (PBL).
“In the lines, the levels of the immunoactive “toxic” gluten is reduced up to 95%, and sensory tests showed comparable properties of normal bread, and much better than, for example, rice bread.”
Dr Chojecki added that in terms of physical baking properties, the wheat would not be suitable for large volume bread loaves.
For pasta though, which is traditionally made from Triticum durum wheat, there would be no technical obstacle to applying the approach to pasta wheat.
The use of genetically modified wheat, especially targeting gluten reduction or elimination has made headlines with news that German company GoodMills Innovation has recently developed a wheat based on ancient grains.
These grains, called 2ab Wheat, are the first to be grown and processed specifically for its improved digestibility, suitable for those who are gluten sensitive.
Created as a joint venture between GoodMills Group and Palsgaard , the grain wheat does not contain the D genome, which causes digestive discomfort for many people.
Led by Dr Francisco Barro, the team from the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in Spain, began using a genomic modification technique called CRISPR/Cas to remove the genes that code for the gliadin protein.
This task is made all the more difficult as there are no less than 45 copies of the gene for the main problematic gliadin protein.
However, efforts from Dr Barro’s team resulted in a knock out rate of 35 of the 45 genes.
“Up to 35 different genes were mutated in one of the lines of the 45 different genes identified in the wild type, while immunoreactivity was reduced by 85%,” the study said.
“Transgene-free lines were identified, and no off-target mutations have been detected in any of the potential targets.”
In total 21 mutant wheat lines were generated, all showing strong reduction in gliadin content.
Dr Chojecki added that along with actual baking properties, the taste and sensory properties of the products produced from this wheat improved on that currently available on gluten-free shelves.
He added that the considerable interest he had received from the food industry would need to take into account the GM aspect that formed one part of the complex developmental challenge.
“The agricultural science and crop industry is largely focussed on growers/farmers as their primary customer and are, largely speaking, not focussed on developing products with downstream consumer benefits, which for them represents a challenging business model,” he said.
“So we have approached alternative investors who have the vision and will to take these products forward, and are now working with them.
“What is also very evident is that there is very strong acceptance of the GM aspect from people with gluten pathologies.”
Source: Plant Biotechnology Journal
Published online ahead of print: doi: 10.1111/pbi.12837
“Low-gluten, non-transgenic wheat engineered with CRISPR/Cas9.”
Authors: Susana Sánchez-León, Javier Gil-Humanes, Carmen Ozuna, María Giménez, Carolina Sousa, Daniel Voytas, Francisco Barro