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  • Unconventional Ag

Farmers Fund Research to Breed Gluten Free Wheat

The Kansas Wheat Commission is funding the first two years of a project with the goal of developing gluten free wheat varieties.

A gluten free diet is the only known recourse for people with the autoimmune disorder, Celiac disease, a condition where even small amounts of the proteins in wheat that give it its elasticity and flavor can damage the small intestines. Only about 1% of the world’s population suffers from Celiac disease, but the market for gluten free products has boomed over the past five years, driven in large part by people who have not been diagnosed but believe themselves to be intolerant of wheat.

Last year in the U.S. alone, sales of gluten free snacks, breads, pastas and other food reached a value of US$973 million – up from $810 million in 2013, according to consumer research firm, Packaged Facts.

Research focused on developing a gluten free wheat variety began in January, and is still in its early stages at the Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan Kansas. Currently scientists are extracting proteins from various wheat varieties including wild varieties and samples from a Kansas wheat repository dating back to the early 1900’s, and later, will combine them with human antibodies to test for reactions. It is hoped that a commercially viable gluten free variety can be developed, however, some doubt whether simple breeding can address the complex proteins in a thorough enough manner to create a wheat variety that would pose no threat to Celiac patients.

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