A Stronger Wheat on the Horizon?

August 31, 2010

A Stronger Wheat on the Horizon?

A scientific breakthrough could bulk up wheat, but what’s the impact on celiac disease?

British researchers have “cracked” wheat’s genetic code, as reported by Time magazine. The finding has been hailed as a scientific breakthrough, giving researchers a better understanding of wheat, how it works and, most importantly, how to improve the grain.

According to the article, scientists have long been baffled by wheat. By decoding its genetic structure, researchers hope to enhance breeding, with better disease resistance and a stronger harvest in mind. When the genetic code for rice was unscrambled, researchers were able to develop “vitamin-enriched strains,” the article noted.

While the finding is a boon for science, it also brings health into question. While many could benefit from enriched wheat, it’s unclear how a genetically-modified version could affect consumers.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Joseph Murray, gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic and a member of the NFCA Medical Advisory Board, suggested that environmental factors could be contributing to the rise of celiac disease prevalence. “It may be that people are more susceptible because we are eating much more wheat today—or that wheat is being processed or cultivated differently,” the article noted.

As scientists unravel the mysteries of wheat and begin the search for a better, stronger grain, the long-term effects of such developments on public health could warrant further investigation.