Researchers in The Netherlands are using a form of biotechnology to modify gluten without actually stripping it of its baking qualities.

bread loaf
Credit: Stefka Pavlova / Getty

Good news: If you're allergic to gluten but still love to bake, new research is being done to possibly remove the allergens naturally found in gluten without eliminating the unique advantages that gluten can provide a baked good. The science behind the process ultimately modifies wheat to make it safe for those who suffer from celiac disease or anyone who's predisposed to gluten intolerance.

Food Navigator reports that food scientists at Wageningen University are using a form of genome editing known as CRISPR-Cas9 to isolate toxic antigens in gluten (otherwise known as epitopes) and simply remove them. Scientists admit that it's a complicated process-bread contains upwards of 16 billion DNA letters, which is about five times the size of the human genetic code, according to one Science report.

"Not all of these genes have the toxic epitopes and [with CRISPR-Ca9] it's possible to remove part of them and leave the non-toxic ones," Jan Schaart, a researcher at Wagenigen's Plant Research division, told Food Navigator. "It sounds very simple, but so far, the group has managed to mutate wheat strains to lack particular gluten epitopes."

The report notes that this method has never been used before, and could allow those dealing with gluten sensitivities-which includes over two percent of the global population-to safely enjoy products made with wheat. Even consumers who aren't allergic to gluten could benefit from the development, as a recent Gallup Poll shows that one in five Americans are trying to eat gluten-free foods.

Aurélie Jouanin, a doctoral candidate at Wageningen University, is being credited with proposing the idea in a doctoral thesis. Before turning to gene editing, Jouanin also investigated the effect of gamma irradiation on wheat genetics, which ended up removing more than just toxic gluten genes from wheat altogether. After five years of research and testing, the team at Wageningen is looking for more funding and other researchers to collaborate on their project. Food Navigator reports that the team says they're still five to ten years away from having their process commercialized for use in common baked goods.


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