Research by Edith Cowan University (ECU), CSIRO and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) to decoded the genome of oats has revealed promising findings for coeliac disease and gluten intolerance.

The findings explained why the popular cereal could be suitable for most people with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance.

Professor Michelle Colgrave, from ECU and CSIRO, said researchers were particularly interested in finding out why oat products trigger fewer allergies and intolerances compared to other cereals such as wheat or rye.

“We discovered that oats have fewer of the proteins that correspond to gluten in wheat, causing an immune reaction from people with coeliac disease.

“This allowed us to confirm, on both a gene (DNA) and protein level, that oats contain fewer protein sequences that are known to trigger food allergy and intolerance,” Colgrave said.  

Compared to other cereals, oats also contain a much higher proportion of beta-glucans, which reduce blood cholesterol levels and have a positive effect on people with metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Associate Professor Jason Tye-Din from WEHI, said the research provides reassurance about the safety of oats for people with coeliac disease and brings us a step closer to seeing their safe inclusion into gluten free diets.

“Concerns that oats harbour gluten-like proteins that may be harmful for people with coeliac disease has meant that in Australia and New Zealand, oats are currently excluded from the gluten-free diet,” Tye-Din said.

People eating the highly restrictive gluten-free diet have lower whole grain intake and can suffer higher rates of heart disease – the inclusion of oats could overcome many of those adverse effects.

“The findings from this study tells us that the genes encoding potentially harmful gluten-like sequences are infrequent, expressed at low level and the sequences themselves less likely to trigger inflammation. 

“These characteristics mean oats bear closer genomic and protein similarities to rice, which is safe in coeliac disease, than wheat and other gluten-rich cereals,” he said.

Oats are not only interesting because of their innate health benefits; their cultivation also requires fewer treatments with insecticides, fungicides and fertilisers compared to other cereals. 

Thanks to the new insights into the oat genome, breeding and cultivation of more nutritious and sustainable oats can now be accelerated.

“The freely available resources created in this collaboration are essentially the blueprint for oats and will increase the potential of breeding to target specific traits.

“This could be high protein in grain to address the increasing demand for plant-based sources of protein to meet our growing population,” said Colgrave. 

Dr Angéla Juhász from Edith Cowan University said the findings could be a huge boom for Australia’s oat industry. 

“The research conducted by ECU and CSIRO allows us to identify not only the proteins associated with gluten-like traits in oats but also characteristics which can increase crop yield, boost nutritional profiles and make them more resistant to disease and drought,” Juhász said. 

“This can provide Australian growers with unique, differentiated grain to maintain Australia's position as a supplier of premium, high-quality grain that delivers specific health benefits to Australians.”

Australia is a world leader in the production of high-quality milling oats for the international market. It is regularly the second largest oat exporter, about 10–15 per cent of world trade, behind Canada (75 per cent of world oat trade).

Australia is also the 4th largest global processed oats exporter with a market share of around 10 per cent. 


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