Genetic Study on Oats Reveal Why the Grain is Suitable for Gluten-Free Diets

Genetic Study on Oats Reveal Why the Grain is Suitable for Gluten-Free Diets
Researchers from Edith Cowan University find oats to be a possible wholegrain cereal for people with coeliac disease (iStock)

The Edith Cowan University’s (ECU) genetic study on oats has shown why oats could be the answer for most people with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance.

“We discovered that oats have fewer of the proteins that correspond to gluten in wheat, causing an immune reaction from people with coeliac disease,” said ECU Prof. Michelle Colgrave on May 19.
Colgrave said that these findings allowed the team to confirm that “on both a gene (DNA) and protein level, that oats contain fewer protein sequences that are known to trigger food allergy and intolerance” and also found that oats shared more significant genetic similarities with rice, which is gluten-free, rather than wheat and rye; both rich in gluten.
Compared to other cereals, oats also contain a much higher proportion of beta-glucans, which reduce blood cholesterol levels and also improve the immune system.

Assoc Prof. Jason Tye-Din said the research provides reassurance about the safety of oats for people with coeliac disease and takes a step further to enable the cereal’s inclusion into gluten-free diets.

“Concerns that oats harbour gluten-like proteins that may be harmful to people with coeliac disease has meant that in Australia and New Zealand, oats are currently excluded from the gluten-free diet,” he said.

People eating restrictive gluten-free diets often have low whole-grain intake, which is often associated with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. However, the inclusion of oats could overcome many of those adverse effects.

New Potential for Breeding

Oats are not only interesting because of their innate health benefits; their cultivation also requires fewer treatments with insecticides, fungicides and fertilisers compared to other cereals.

However, compared to wheat, it is more difficult for oats to crossbreed with other cereals that have different set numbers for chromosomes compared to them; it is also harder for the grain to take up foreign genes.

The genetic study has revealed that cultured oats (Avena sativa) have six sets of chromosomes (6n), of which two were received from Avena longiglumis (2n) and Avena insularis, which has four sets.

The authors speculated that A. sativa, being bred from two species with differing numbers of chromosome sets, may pose as a breeding barrier for oats.

However, the researchers believe that the study will provide new insight into the genome and assist in the breeding and cultivation of more nutritious and sustainable oats.

“The freely available resources created in this collaboration are essentially the blueprint for oats and will increase the potential of breeding to target specific traits," said Colgrave, listing high-protein oats to address demands for plant-based proteins as a possibility.

Dr Angéla Juhász from ECU said the findings could be a massive boon for Australia’s oat industry.

“The research conducted by ECU and CSIRO allows us to identify not only the proteins associated with gluten-like traits in oats but also characteristics which can increase crop yield, boost nutritional profiles and make them more resistant to disease and drought,” she said.

“This can provide Australian growers with unique, differentiated grain to maintain Australia's position as a supplier of premium, high-quality grain that delivers specific health benefits to Australians.”