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New Leibniz-Project WHEATSCAN: An interdisciplinary network to unravel the causes for wheat sensitivities

Freising. An interdisciplinary network of nationally and internationally leading cereal scientists, plant researchers, bioinformaticians, immunologists and gastroenterologists works together on a new project called WHEATSCAN - Unraveling the causes for wheat sensitivities. The Senate Competition Committee of the German Leibniz Association funds the three-year project with 1.14 million euros.

Wheat sensitivities have gained increasing public awareness due to popular scientific books like “Wheat Belly” and “Grain Brain” and a gluten-free diet is the latest trend in Western countries even without clear medical necessity. The fact that these books intermingle sound scientific evidence with theoretical, controversial and incorrect, unfounded claims is extremely problematic.

It is scientifically proven that certain wheat proteins are known to cause inflammatory reactions. These include celiac disease, an inflammatory disorder of the small intestine triggered by gluten in genetically predisposed persons, wheat allergy (inter alia baker’s asthma) and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or better wheat sensitivity (NCWS). First described in the 1980ies, fairly little is known about NCWS, but it is estimated that up to 6 % of the population could be affected by NCWS. Typical symptoms are intestinal complaints such as abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea or bloating and systemic complaints such as headache or tiredness. A presumed and partially proven exacerbation of extraintestinal inflammatory diseases (e.g. allergic asthma, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematodes) on a wheat-containing diet may be even more important.

NCWS is treated with a gluten- and thus wheat-free diet. One of the aims of the WHEATSCAN-consortium is to elucidate the pathomechanism of NCWS and the causative wheat proteins. Although gluten may not be excluded completely, amylase-trypsin-inhibitors (ATIs) from gluten-containing cereals seem to play an important role as activators of the innate immune response in the intestine and possible triggers for NCWS, according to the latest findings of the Institute of Translational Immunology in Mainz, Germany. Apart from in-depth analyses of ATIs, additional components of gluten-containing cereals will be evaluated regarding their immunostimulatory potential. Due to a lack of reliable diagnostic biomarkers, the diagnosis of NCWS is currently based on excluding celiac disease, wheat allergy, other food intolerances and irritable bowel syndrome.

The multidisciplinary research questions of this new project will only be answered through collaboration of the leading national research centers in cereal science at the German Research Centre for Food Chemistry, Leibniz Institute (DFA), crop plant research at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK), bioinformatics at the Helmholtz Center Munich (HMGU), the Institute of Translational Immunology in Mainz and the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (UKE).
The working hypothesis for this project is based on the assumption that the protein composition, e.g. the content of ATIs, has changed in wheat flours over the last 100 years due to breeding or new cultivation methods. Modern cultivars might consequently have a higher immunostimulatory potential compared to old cultivars. This could be a reasonable explanation for the recent increased prevalence of NCWS.

The WHEATSCAN-project aims to answer the following key questions:
                                
1)    Which influence did wheat breeding over the last 100 years have on genetic expression, protein composition and the potential to trigger immune reactions?
2)    Which genetic, protein or peptide markers characterize wheat cultivars with low immunostimulatory potential?
3)    Are wheat cultivars with low immunostimulatory potential tolerated by NCWS patients and which unknown components of wheat contribute to NCWS initiation?

The aim of this project is to correlate genetic variability (genome), gene expression (transcriptome) and protein composition (proteome) with the immunostimulatory potential of 60 German wheat cultivars grown during the last 100 years. This multidisciplinary approach is expected to establish a basis for the development of new wheat cultivars with low immunoreactivity. Furthermore, this project may contribute to advances in diagnostics and clarification of the pathomechanism of NCWS.

More Information:
Project partners
DFA:         German Research Centre for Food Chemistry, Leibniz Institut, Freising, Germany
IPK:          Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Gatersleben, Germany
HMGU:      Helmholtz Center Munich, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg,
                Germany
JGU:         Institute of Translational Immunology, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany
UKE:         Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Department of Medicine 1, Erlangen,
                Germany

Project details
Name:        WHEATSCAN – Unraveling the causes for wheat sensitivities
Start:        April 01, 2016
Duration:        3 years
Budget:        1.139.880,- EUR
Coordinator:     German Research Centre for Food Chemistry, Leibniz Institut, Freising, Germany

Contact details
Dr. Katharina Scherf
German Research Centre for Food Chemistry, Leibniz Institut
Lise-Meitner-Straße 34
85354 Freising, Germany
E-Mail:     katharina.scherf@lrz.tum.de
Tel.: +49 8161 712927

8th revised and completed print edition of Souci Fachmann Kraut Food Composition and Nutrition Tables published

Freising. Since autumn 2015 an updated online version of the Souci Fachmann Kraut, edited by the DFA, is accessible. From now on, the revised and completed data are also available as print edition. The Food Composition and Nutrition Tables, published since more than 50 years, present clearly above 800 food items and more than 300 food ingredients. In comparison to the last edition, the data have been comprehensively revised and completed. The tables now include information on the contents of phytoestrogens (isoflavones and lignans). Also, contents of folic acid have been completed for some food. As the only Nutrition Table, the eighths edition of the Souci Fachmann Kraut provides reliable data on the contents of gluten in several cereals and cereal products. Data on fatty acid contents have been comprehensively supplemented and expanded for the food groups fish and fish products. Also, data on several types of tea have been newly included, e.g. peppermint tea, fennel tea, chamomile tea, and rooibos tea. Other additions include data on constituents of various meat cuts from cattle, sheep or pork, and some herbs.
The revised and completed edition of the Souci Fachmann Kraut provides comprehensive and well-founded data for experts in nutrition and food sciences as well as in food industry.

DFA again positively evaluated.

Freising. The senate of the Leibniz Association has recommended further support of the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Lebensmittelchemie - Leibniz Institut (DFA; German Research Centre for Food Chemistry - Leibniz Institute). In a statement published on 9 July 2015, the senate confirmed the institutes' very good performance in the field of research as well as in consultancy services. Furthermore, supraregional importance and national scientific interest of the research carried out at DFA were ascertained.

Leibniz institutions are evaluated at regular intervals, usually every seven years, by independent experts, in order to decide about financial support by the Federal and Länder governments. The reviewer group visited the DFA on 6 and 7 November, 2014.