EUROPE – The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has unveiled a tool named “preDQ,” designed to screen proteins in food and food ingredients that may trigger symptoms in individuals suffering from celiac disease.

This innovative tool, initially devised to assess the allergenicity of genetically modified (GM) plants, holds promise in diverse food safety applications.

Celiac disease, a condition affecting approximately 0.7% of the EU population, stems from an immune reaction triggered by gluten, proteins present in wheat, barley, and rye.

Symptoms vary widely, encompassing stomach-ache, diarrhea, malnutrition, anemia, and osteoporosis, with the sole therapy being a lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet.

Professor Frits Koning, a leading expert who has delved into the development and behavior of celiac disease, plays a pivotal role in the EFSA working group.

“Celiac disease patients all share one or two molecules called HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8. These receptors efficiently bind fragments of gluten proteins, setting off the immune system and triggering celiac disease,” he said.

Within the EFSA working group, Prof. Koning and his team crafted a mathematical model and an application—preDQ—to forecast how gluten from food binds to these receptors, a phenomenon known as ‘peptide binding.’

This tool facilitates the assessment of proteins from various sources before their inclusion in the diet.

Beyond celiac disease

While initially applied to GM plant assessments, preDQ showcases its versatility as a screening tool applicable to any protein intended for human consumption.

“We use the tool to screen the primary amino acid sequence of the protein to predict whether or not binding of fragments of the protein will take place. If it predicts binding, the protein may pose a risk for celiac disease patients,” Prof. Koning emphasized.

EFSA’s experts are actively employing preDQ in the evaluation of GM plants, and the tool’s potential extends to screening proteins in novel foods, food/feed enzymes, contaminants, and GM food or feed.

Moreover, preDQ could empower producers outside EFSA to proactively screen crop plants developed through advanced plant breeding techniques.

Reflecting on the impact of his research, Prof. Koning expressed satisfaction, stating, “I am pleased that over a decade later, my research and the work of the scientific community are helping to protect European celiac disease patients from being exposed to harmful food products.”

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