Pitcher plant enzymes may help Celiac disease patients digest Gluten

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Pitcher plant Credit: Pixabay
Pitcher plant. Each pitcher plant can contain upto 0.5ml of the digestive enzyme containing fluid. Thousands of pitcher plants were harvested to obtain around 6 liters of fluid for isolation of enzymes for treatment of celiac disease  Credit: Pixabay

Celiac disease is a common autoimmune condition causing poor digestion of gluten proteins that manifests as pain and inflammation in the small intestine. Approximately, one in hundred people in North America suffer from this disease. The only treatment currently available for these patients is subscribing to a gluten-free diet.

Interestingly, researchers at University of Calgary recently isolated enzymes from carnivorous pitcher plant that can aid digestion of gluten in conditions similar to that in a human stomach. This finding will certainly help in development of novel therapeutics for these patients.

What is Celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a genetic disease resulting in pain and inflammation of the small intestine. It is a chronic condition in which patients are unable to fully digest gluten proteins, which are normally enriched in proline and glutamine residues. These incompletely digested peptides cause severe inflammation of the stomach and small intestine, and in turn affect their ability to digest other nutrients as well.

Gluten proteins are abundantly present in a variety of cereals including wheat and barley hence patients with this disease experience complications almost with almost all types of diets.

Currently, the high costs associated with specialised gluten-free diets as well as constant adulteration of food with gluten containing or related proteins make this option less viable.

Carnivorous Pitcher plant enzymes can help breakdown gluten?

One recent development in the treatment of this condition is the idea of supplementing enzymes that can enable complete digestion of gluten proteins thus reducing the symptoms associated with this disease.

Dr. Schriemer’s group at Calgary recently identified and isolated a bunch of potent enzymes from carnivorous pitcher plants or commonly called monkey cups. Pitcher plants normally capture and digest prey from their surroundings for their own nutrition with the help of viscoelastic fluid in their digestive track.

Trapped Insects are degraded by the viso-elastic fluid inside a pitcher plant Credit: Wikipedia
Trapped Insects are degraded by the viso-elastic fluid inside a pitcher plant Credit: Wikipedia

The researchers harvested this fluid to purify and concentrate enzymes that can completely digest gluten. Almost 6 liters of this fluid from thousands of plants was collected for this study. It was shown that use of these concentrated enzymes in small quantities was able to effectively digest gluten components in an environment similar to that inside the human stomach.

With currently no existing cure for celiac patients, the identification of these potent enzymes serves as an important discovery for development of therapeutics for this condition.

According to Schriemer, patients with celiac disease in near future will be able take a pill containing these enzymes, thus enabling them to completely digest gluten proteins. Thus, isolation of these carnivorous enzymes from pitcher plant stands as a highly promising discovery in treatment of celiac disease.

Original article can be found here.

Source: University of Calgary