A tool developed by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) scientists allows for the screening of proteins in foods that trigger reactions in celiac disease patients, ensuring greater food safety. The tool could potentially be applied in a range of allergenic food safety areas.

Celiac patients either have one or two receptor molecules—HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8—that effectively bind fragments of gluten proteins, causing the immune system to recognize gluten and triggering celiac symptoms.

EFSA scientists developed a mathematical model and an application to predict how gluten from food binds to the celiac-triggering receptors, a process known as “peptide bonding,” enabling the evaluation of proteins from plants, animals, or microorganisms used in foods before reaching consumers. The tool is used to screen the primary amino acid sequence of a protein to predict whether or not peptide bonding will occur, thereby posing a risk for celiac patients.

The tool, called preDQ, can be used on any protein intended for the diet.

At present, EFSA uses preDQ in its assessments of genetically modified plants, but it could potentially be used for screening any proteins, for example, in novel foods, food and feed enzymes, contaminants, and genetically modified food or feed. The tool could also be used outside EFSA by producers to screen in advance crop plants made by plant breeding techniques.