Value Added Wheat – Genomic Prediction Modelling

Presented as part of Technology Transfer Seminars 2023

Following on from Sarah Robert’s presentation on reducing gluten allergenicity, Paul Johnston presented the results of research exploring another option for addressing the gluten-related disorders – developing a low allergenicity wheat.

Gluten-related disorders are a worldwide problem in the form of coeliac disease, wheat allergies and non-coeliac wheat sensitivity. As approximately 20% of worldwide calories comes from wheat and gluten is also found in a multitude of foods, the issue is significant. Solutions involve gluten avoidance (studies show that up to 30% of people actively avoid gluten), longer fermentation, gliadin extraction technologies, and wheat varieties with reduced allergenicity – the focus of this research.

Gluten epitopes are specific amino acid sequences, often high in Proline (P) and Glutamine (Q), making them resistant to intestinal degradation. An immune response to these gluten epitopes can be triggered in genetically susceptible consumers. Gluten epitopes exist within the larger gluten complex but only make up a small portion of the total gluten protein.

In breeding for a low gluten epitope, there is a need for variation in epitope concentration, which requires a wide sample of milling and feed wheats from NZ, Canada, Australia and the UK. Understanding the role of genetics versus environmental factors versus management is also essential, as is understanding the connections between epitope concentrations and other important traits such as grain protein and baking quality.

Paul emphasised baking quality and the importance of flour needing to be fit for purpose. Breeding is complex ten-year process he says, and while it is possible to shortcut the process there is never going to be one line of wheat that does everything.

Findings over the last three years in which the project has been running are that low epitope wheat won’t help those who are already suffering from coeliac disease, but there is potential way to reduce the frequency of inflammatory issues in consumers.

As results indicate that it is possible to breed for lower gluten epitope, the next steps are to identify how best to implement this knowledge into the PFR wheat breeding program and produce fit for purpose wheat cultivars with reduced gluten epitope.

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