Científicos del organismo solicitan permiso para cultivar un trigo transgénico apto para celíacos en una parcela de Córdoba. La cosecha, media tonelada de grano, servirá para elaborar galletas y llevar a cabo un ensayo clínico con pacientes. Los investigadores creen que el cereal podría llegar al mercado en cinco años.
Scientists of the agency are seeking permission to cultivate a GM wheat suitable for coeliacs on a plot of Córdoba. The harvest, half a ton of grain serve to develop and carry out a clinical trial with patients. Researchers believe that the cereal could reach the market within five years...
CSIC scientists have requested permission to plant there, on a plot of 1,000 square meters, wheat whose genes have been modified so that it can be consumed by people with celiac disease, a currently incurable disease of unknown origin that affects about 1% of the world population.
When people with celiac disease consume gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley and rye - their body's defenses react and damage the intestine. As a result, there are diarrhea, vomiting and unexplained weight loss until it is given to the cause. Their only option now is to eat gluten-free foods that are more expensive. Celiacs spent each year 1,600 euros more on food than the other people. In the U.S. alone, the market for gluten-free foods moved 4,200 billion in 2012.
To remedy this, a team from the Institute of Sustainable Agriculture Cordoba, led by biologist Francisco Barro, has since 2004 investigating transgenic wheat varieties without gluten. In 2011, researchers announced that they had obtained varieties capable of producing in celiacs "a reaction up to 95% less toxic than natural wheat", according to laboratory results.
Now, Barro has asked the National Biosafety Commission for a permit to grow wheat for the first time outdoors. His goal is to harvest half a ton of grain to make crackers that will be used to conduct a clinical trial with celiacs. The test, if all goes as planned, will be held for three months with between 30 and 60 patients, who will be able to taste wheat again, until now forbidden to them, in a trial coordinated by medical Queen Sofía Hospital. The biologist believes his cereal could reach the market within five years.
Barro is aware that its GM wheat "has no chance in Europe", the continent most reluctant to genetically modified organisms. Five countries - USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and India - grabbing global GM production, with 152 million hectares.
Europe only allows the cultivation of two GM crops: modified corn by the U.S. company Monsanto to be resistant to insect infestation and a starch potato from German chemicals company BASF for paper and textile industries. However, following a hypocritical policy, Brussels does support importing about 40 GM products from other countries.
The CSIC has sold the license to exploit the patent for its GM wheat, to a British company, Plant Bioscience Limited, based in Norwich. "Possibly, their strategy will be to cultivate our wheat in the U.S., Argentina and China, and they will sell the flour to Spain for the price of gold", speculates Barro.
According to preliminary studies, "in the worst case, a celiac can [at least] eat every day three slices of bread made from the modified wheat". Barro team has organized a blind tasting with 11 tasters, who were unable to distinguish the normal wheat bread from the one baked with transgenic cereals.
To prevent the escape of genetically modified wheat from the plot... CSIC scientists impose a safety distance of 200 meters to any other plot with cereal. Barro considered very unlikely that there is a leak, because "wheat pollen is heavy" and cannot travel long distances on the wind.
Wheat suitable for coeliacs has its genes modified to suppress the proteins responsible for the allergic response of celiacs, gliadins. "It would be surprising that this feature gave the GM wheat a competitive advantage over the normal wheat [if it escapes]," says Barro... "There are anti-GMO environmentalists, who are celiacs, who called me to try our wheat," says Barro...
Original article in Spanish:
Via Alexander J. Stein, Norman Warthmann