Genetically modified foods are becoming more popular in the news as they become more prevalent in our society.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defined GM foods or GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) as crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biology techniques.  These plants are modified in a laboratory to add nutritional value and/or enhance their most desired traits.
Wheat1.jpgGenetic engineering can create plants with the exact results aimed for very rapidly and with great precision.  Genes can be transferred from one plant to another, or from non-plant organisms to plants.
The advantages of genetically modified foods range from pest resistance, disease resistance, herbicide tolerance, cold tolerance, drought tolerance, improved nutrition, and pharmaceutical uses.  All over the world, research is being conducted to create genetically modified foods.
Dr. Diter von Wettstein, R.A. Nilan Distinguished Professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University, received grants totaling nearly $2 million from the National Institutes of Health and Washington’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund in 2008 and 2009.  Wettstein was awarded the grants to advance his research to develop wheat varieties safe to eat by people with celiac disease.
Celiac disease is a digestive condition triggered by the consumption of protein gluten, which is found in a wide variety of breads, cookies, pasta, and many other foods containing barley, rye, or wheat.  Individuals with celiac disease who consume gluten over a long period of time suffer damage to the small intestine, resulting in interference with the absorption of nutrients from food.  Malnutrition can result.
Dr. von Wettstein’s research focuses on removing the gliadins and gliadin-type prolamins from the gluten protein in wheat.  It is the gliadins that specifically cannot be digested by individuals with celiac disease; they eventually cross the intestinal wall, causing a damaging T-cell response to the intestinal lining.
Currently, there is no cure for celiac disease and the only treatment is to adopt a gluten-free diet; this includes eliminating all barley, rye, and wheat-based foods.  Making this diet much more difficult to maintain, gluten is also used as a filler or binder in many additional food and non-food items that one would not expect.  These items range from deli meats to medicines, vitamins, beer, licorice, and the adhesive on stamps and envelopes.
“Medical experts at the National Institutes of Health have declared urgency in dealing with celiac disease, the most common food-sensitive intestinal condition in humans, and require faster and more decisive methods such as transgenic breeding, in which genes are transferred from different species,” said Dr. von Wettstein, a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Dr. von Wettstein and his team have identified a fully viable, lysine-rich barley mutant that lacks the gliadin-type and low-molecular-weight glutenins that are currently shown to be exclusively responsible for dough elasticity and exceptional baking quality.  Using genetic methods to remove the celiac-causing gliadins and low-molecular glutenins, Dr. von Wettstein’s task is to produce a similar wheat grain while preserving wheat’s baking qualities.
As an extra asset, the resulting grain will contain more lysine; an amino acid essential for an optimal diet that is usually deficient in wheat.
“Creating new cultivars of wheat, arguably the most important crop grown, having increased lysine and lacking gliadins will be of tremendous benefit not only for sufferers of celiac disease, but for all consumers of wheat and wheat products,” said von Wettstein.
Dr. von Wettstein and his team have partnered with the Seattle-based biotechnology company Arcadia Biosciences to screen large populations of wheat, to be able to identify gene mutants that affect the celiac-triggering protein types.

  • I think they should definitely start doing this with all wheat. You can get milk without the lactose, so why not wheat without the gluten? Seems odd really that this hasn’t been done already!

    • Frank T. Lofaro Jr.

      It is easier to remove lactose. And removing 99.99% of it is as good as 100%. Removing 99.99% of gluten still makes something that will damage a celiac’s intestines!

  • Alfredo Saggioro

    I strongly agree

  • Rose

    Although in general I’m against the genetic modification of foods, I could perhaps be persuaded over removing gluten from wheat! I believe that there are many many more people suffering from gluten intolerance than is currently realised and it’s causing uneccesary suffering by way of the many illnesses that an undiagnosed gluten intolerance can cause.

  • Daniel Prescott

    I would like to see an example of a GM food that has been engineered for improved nutrition. This article doesn’t even mention any of the health and environmental safety concerns of genetic modification. If you have a gluten intolerance, you are not meant to be eating wheat. Listen to your body.
    I’d also like to mention that milk is different. There has been no cellular modification done to dairy cows to produce a lactose free milk. This is achieved with post production processing.

  • Frances

    I think that man has messed enough with our food chain. I think the increase of intestinal problems is because of the changing of our natural foods. I have research fully our family medical history on both sides of the family and there is no validity in the genetic transmission of celiac disease, yet my daughter has been diagnosed as celiac. Every day I go to the grocery store I run into another person searching to live gluten free that has been recently diagnosed celiac, and no family background to support it. Sorry either the medical community is playing a game or our food producers. I tend to believe it is the playing god with our food.

    • Jeremy Rawley

      We humans have always loved “playing god with our food”, as you put it, and we made all the major changes AGES ago. Why is genetic engineering any different?

  • Marcela

    Years ago, when I first found out about genetically modified foods, I was interested (and scared) to see what the long term effects would be. Considering gluten intolerance and celiac disease is on the rise, I’m not sure modifying wheat further (wheat has a long history of hybridization and modifying) is a good idea in the long run.

  • jack

    i completely agree with Frances. Further, to remove gluten from wheat would be like removing the cold temperature from water, making plain water.

  • sue

    As a celiac sufferer I think removing the parts of a protein from wheat that causes a celiac reaction would constitute a miracle. Simply removing wheat, barley and rye from a persons diet is next to impossible in our society. It is in everything!
    To Frances: Doctors are only now becoming aware of celiac disease and its manifestations. If your relatives had celiac disease there is a high probability they were never diagnosed or, if it was severe, died at a young age.

  • Dan

    Lack of education breeds conspiracy theories.

  • Bob

    GMO crops are the trouble starter for health problems – research GMO relateion to celiac disease. GMO wheat is producing foreign protein that causes allergic reaction when exposed for a period of time. Some babies start allergic reactions when they start cereal diet made from GMO crops. And hold on – someone want to use GMO food to treat GMO caused disease? Sounds like good business to me. $ $ $ Caching$… caching$… Please educate yourself on GMO dangers.

    • Cairenn Day

      No GMO wheat has ever been approved, so how can celiac be caused by it?

  • david

    This article is nothing but propaganda for the interests of GMO producers to be given the “thumbs up” to continue tampering with the world’s food supply. If they had there way, they would control all agricultural food supply. They already produce seeds that “expire” after a season so that you have to keep buying from them. They “tag” their seeds so that they can approach farmers who inadvertently had their fields contaminated and demand payment for crops grown from their seeds, etc… Since the exact cause of this epidemic response to gluten (actually gliadin the protein) is still unknown, and may very well be the result of environmental factors – I say “no thanks!” Don’t let the promise of being able to eat doughy bread again be a dangling carrot for your compromise!

    • Cairenn Day

      There is not ‘Terminator’ seed.

      • Mere ling

        Sorry but open your eyes unless your working for them.

    • Frank T. Lofaro Jr.

      I’m glad their stuff expires. A good thing done for the wrong reasons (greed). If their toxic crap self destructs it is better than it propagating itself! it is done to increase profits, but it does reduce impacts. When it is finally banned from manufacture it will go away!

  • Hannah

    The earliest varieties of wheat cultivated by humans contained very little, if any at all, gluten. Instead of GMing a modern hybrid, why don’t we just grow the ancient varieties that evolved on earth naturally? It wasn’t until the late 1800s that wheat contained significant amounts of gluten.

    • Robert

      Because these natural varieties produce not enough yield!

      Keep in mind that in 2050 there will be 9 billion people on earth. How do you want to produce enough food for all these people? By organic farming? That’s just entirely impossible!

      All the people on earth dying because of not having enough food would love to eat anything, whether it is GM or not GM. The Non GMO community is a phenomena of rich people having too much time to think about what could possible happen if …. etc etc. And problems we did not have had 50 years ago (lets say people having allergies and stuff) did mostly arise because we are not normally exposed to dirt anymore and our immunesystem does not gain enough experience during development (since we are handling our children too protective).

      Please also be SCIENTIFIC about GMO research. e.g. Herbicideresistence is not a GMO-specific problem its a problem of Herbicide management – and the list goes on and on and on.

      for further information see this:
      Ps: I am a scientist and I am exclusively “funded” by my natural interest in science.

    • Jeremy Rawley

      What do you want to do, go back to the days of low-yielding crops? None of the food plants we know and love exist, as we know them, naturally. Wheat, corn, rice, rye, barley, and other grains were all originally scraggly, pathetic little grasses. Corn alone originally had only ten kernels. Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers all had small fruits and roots and were potentially fatal; the familiar fruits and roots we eat are basically nightshades with the toxins bred out of them. Apples, melons, drupes, gourds, and berries were all originally small, too.

      Unless you live like a Pleistocene hunter-gatherer, running around naked, sleeping under a convenient bush or in a cave, chewing raw grains and rotting meat culled from found carcasses, and drinking from puddles, ponds, or streams, you do not get to decide what’s natural.

  • nicole

    there is no doubt this thread is on to something. I was basically shut down this year until I found my intolerance to gluten and corn. My father was born a wheat farmer and farmed the last 7 years before he retired. He is educated as a geologist and is a serious scientist. When I was recently talking with him about eliminating the grains from my diet and we got onto the topic of GM grains. Yes, we ask ourselves why all of a sudden with the gluten thing? Why all the auto immune disorders all of a sudden? I came on line specifically tonight to see if there was a result in searching GM with celiac (I have a metabolic issue with gluten, a totally different manifestation but I know celiac is the name for the common affliction). GM and celiac are very searchable terms in combination. My theory: The grain producers know they are in trouble for producing these digestive issues and a whole list of others that have not yet gotten the press. It is an issue because it makes their product undesirable to anyone intolerant-they can’t sell their product. It is a side effect of the mods. So they are going to play the good guy and try to find a fix for it, as if it weren’t caused by them in the first place. My dad says Durham is the only wheat variety that has not been modified and modification is not allowed for Durham. I think it would be interesting for a few of us to test Durham to see if it is tolerated.

  • GlutenResearcher

    Interesting idea. Have you tested your hypothesis regarding Durham wheat?

  • Matt

    Don’t be deceived by those who want to genetically modify foods in order to make them tolerated by people who have auto-immune diseases because of genetically modified foods. I have celiac dz and am convinced it is due to GMOs. I have accepted that I will never eat gluten again and there is no way I would trust a company, or researcher subsidized by the U.S. Government who says I can now eat GM Wheat, barley, or rye. Just my two cents.

    • Cairenn Day

      There is no GMO wheat or barley. Blame something else, not unicorns and mermaids,

  • Roger Pelizzari

    GM wheat anyone? I don’t think so….
    Sydney Morning Herald
    Scientists reject human trials of GM wheat

    Belinda Tasker

    June 27, 2011
    A group of prominent scientists and researchers from around the world has urged Australia not to go ahead with human trials of genetically modified (GM) wheat.
    The CSIRO is carrying out a study of feeding GM wheat grown in the ACT to rats and pigs and could extend the trial to humans.
    The modified wheat has been altered to lower its glycaemic index in an attempt to see if the grain could have health benefits such as improving blood glucose control and lowering cholesterol levels.
    But eight scientists and academics from Britain, the US, India, Argentina and Australia believe not enough studies have been done on the effects of GM wheat on animals to warrant human trials.
    The CSIRO has dismissed their concerns, insisting no decision has been made on if or when human trials will begin.
    In a letter to the CSIRO’s chief executive Megan Clark, the scientists expressed their “unequivocal denunciation” of the experiments.
    “The use of human subjects for these GM feeding experiments is completely unacceptable,” the letter said.
    “The experiments may be used to dispense with concerns about the health impacts of consuming GM plants, but will not in fact address the health risks GM plants raise.
    “The feeding trials should not be conducted until long-term impact assessments have been undertaken and appropriate information released to enable the scientific community to determine the value of such research, as against the risks.”
    Among the signatories were Dr Michael Antoniou, of the gene expression and therapy group at King’s College London School of Medicine, and Professor David Schubert, from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California.
    The scientists said they were concerned that the CSIRO had inadequately described the biological and biochemical make-up of the GM wheat being used in the trials.
    They said that, based on previous research, GM food products had been shown to be prone to having multiple effects, including damaging the health of animals which had eaten them.
    They believed the CSRIO’s animal feeding trials of up to 28 days were “completely inadequate” to assess such risks.
    But CSIRO spokesman Huw Morgan said animal trials of the GM wheat, which began in 2005, were still continuing.
    “No decision has been made as yet to undertake human trials,” he told AAP.
    “It’s still something that we are considering.”
    Mr Morgan said many studies carried out in the past 15 years had shown GM foods had no detrimental impact on human health.
    The CSIRO’s trials were trying to determine whether the new type of GM grain had health benefits for people with conditions such as colourectal cancer and diabetes, he said.
    Greenpeace food campaigner Laura Kelly said GM experts recommended that long-term animal feeding studies of two years should be carried out before human testing to evaluate any carcinogenic, developmental, hormonal, neural and reproductive dysfunctions.
    “This is the first generation of Australian children that will be exposed to GM in food for a lifetime,” she said.
    “If Julia Gillard doesn’t stand up to foreign biotech companies, soon they’ll be eating it in their sandwiches and pasta, even though it has never been proven safe to eat.”