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Researchers have taken a step closer to breeding a low-allergy wheat variety which could help reduce the proteins in wheat responsible for diseases such as coeliac and baker's asthma.

The Murdoch University team has been examining proteins with a proven relationship to coeliac disease, occupational asthma (baker’s asthma) or wheat-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis (WDEIA).

Senior research fellow Dr Angéla Juhász, who co-led the study with Professor Rudi Appels and Professor Odd-Arne Olsen from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, said understanding the genetic variability and environmental stability of wheat could help food producers grow low-allergen food that could be used as a safe and healthy alternative to complete wheat avoidance.

“We have developed the first complete representation of the proteins related the different forms of immune response in humans, which has helped us to accurately determine the genetic variability of these proteins and their environmental vulnerability,” she said.

Along with mapping the location of these proteins on the wheat genome, the research team investigated how the environment affected the expression of proteins in developing grain, and the resulting effect on human health.

“Seed grain protein content strongly depends on the environmental conditions during growing, so it is extremely important for the development of low-allergen wheat products,” Dr Juhász said.

The researchers identified that certain growing conditions had a strong effect on the amount of proteins triggering food allergies in wheat.

“Climate change and the increase in global temperatures accompanied by more frequent spikes of extreme temperatures can stress crops in a range of ways, and we found this temperature stress changed the expression of the immunoreactive proteins,” Dr Juhász said.

“When the growing season had a cool finish we found an increase in proteins related to baker’s asthma and food allergies. On the other hand, high temperature stress at the flowering stage of the growing season increased the expression of major proteins associated with coeliac disease and WDEIA.

“These results will help food producers to identify grains with reduced allergen and antigen content.”