Research in the Netherlands and at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in the UK has found that gene-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to remove epitopes from gliadin protein in gluten. Gluten, which is found in wheat grains, contains a mixture of glutenin and gliadin proteins. A majority of gliadins and a number of glutenins contain certain immunogenic epitopes that cause the allergic reaction responsible for celiac disease in susceptible individuals.
In her PhD thesis, researcher Aurlie Jouanin identified that CRISPR-Cas9 technology….can edit out certain immunogenic epitopes. Not all gliadins were edited out, and as a result the wheat plants were not classified safe for celiacs, but Jouanin developed methods to identify which genes had changed, and which ones still required modification.
Genetic modification has attracted significant attention of late in the EU. In July 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that crops obtained by mutagenesis are classified as GMOs, as the techniques and method of mutagenesis alter the genetic material of a plant in a way that does not occur naturally. Genetic editing using CRISPR-Cas9 technology involves removing part of the genetic code and proponents argue it is therefore similar to traditional plant breeding techniques.
According to Jouanin, who has advised the European Commission revise its position on genetically-modified plants, the EJC ruling hinders innovation and responsible research.