Enzyme from pitcher plant helps mice digest gluten. Image by Mokkie – Praca własna, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Pitcher plants are a known enemy of insects, but perhaps beneficial for people suffering from celiac disease. Chemist Dr. David Schriemer at the University of Calgary was studying the pitcher plant Nepenthes x ventrata (shown above) in his search for an enzyme similar to pepsin for use in his experiments. Pitcher plants secrete digestive fluids with a pH similar to own digestive juices. Through his research he found the enzyme from pitcher plants could break down the amino acid proline, which comprose about 15% of gluten. His team then characterized the enzymes in the pitcher plant digestive fluids to find which enzyme broke down proline. These findings were published recently in the Journal of Proteome Research.
After isolating the enzymes capable of breaking down prolines, namely neprosin and nepethesins, they found that these enzymes broke down glutens both in test tube samples of the protein and in mice with celiac disease that ingested gluten. The hope is to test the effectiveness of these enzymes in people with celiac disease.
Sources:Lee L, Zhang Y, Ozar B, Sensen CW, Schriemer DC. Carnivorous Nutrition in Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes spp.) via an Unusual Complement of Endogenous Enzymes. Journal of Proteome Research.15 (9): 3108–3117, 2016.Rey M, Yang M, Lee L, Zhang Y, Sheff JG, Sensen CW, Mrazek H, Halada P, Man P, McCarville JL, Verdu EF, Schriemer DC. Addressing proteolytic efficiency in enzymatic degradation therapy for celiac disease. Scientific Reports. 6:30980, 2016.