Towards coeliac-safe bread

Zhiyong Zhang, Yiting Deng, Wei Zhang, Yongrui Wu, Joachim Messing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gluten-free foods cannot substitute for products made from wheat flour. When wheat products are digested, the remaining peptides can trigger an autoimmune disease in 1% of the North American and European population, called coeliac disease. Because wheat proteins are encoded by a large gene family, it has been impossible to use conventional breeding to select wheat varieties that are coeliac-safe. However, one can test the properties of protein variants by expressing single genes in coeliac-safe cereals like maize. One source of protein that can be considered as coeliac-safe and has bread-making properties is teff (Eragrostis tef), a grain consumed in Ethiopia. Here, we show that teff α-globulin3 (Etglo3) forms storage vacuoles in maize that are morphologically similar to those of wheat. Using transmission electron microscopy, immunogold labelling shows that Etglo3 is almost exclusively deposited in the storage vacuole as electron-dense aggregates. Of maize seed storage proteins, 27-kDa γ-zein is co-deposited with Etglo3. Etglo3 polymerizes via intermolecular disulphide bonds in maize, similar to wheat HMW glutenins under non-reducing conditions. Crossing maize Etglo3 transgenic lines with α-, β- and γ-zein RNA interference (RNAi) lines reveals that Etglo3 accumulation is only dramatically reduced in γ-zein RNAi background. This suggests that Etglo3 and 27-kDa γ-zein together cause storage vacuole formation and behave similar to the interactions of glutenins and gliadins in wheat. Therefore, expression of teff α-globulins in maize presents a major step in the development of a coeliac-safe grain with bread-making properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1056-1065
Number of pages10
JournalPlant biotechnology journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


  • gluten
  • maize
  • storage vacuole
  • teff
  • wheat
  • α-globulin


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