Genetically modified corn features antioxidants to cool gut inflammation

A special type of edible corn has been designed to feature high levels of antioxidants that cool down gut bacteria, helping reduce the symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) like Crohn's disease. The positive effects were observed in lab mice fed the corn rich in flavonoids, which are plant metabolites with various health-promoting effects.

The work comes from Penn State's Russel E. Larson Agricultural Research Center. During their study, the researchers created a new type of corn that was bred specifically to produce flavan-4-ols, a type of 'powerful' antioxidants with beneficial health effects. The team focused specifically on the flavonoids' impact on gut inflammation.

Inflammatory bowel diseases involve chronic inflammation of the intestines, resulting in pain, trouble digesting certain foods, and more. Reducing this inflammation is difficult, unfortunately — though some sufferers have experienced relief from dietary changes, others seek out more extreme options, often with little effect.

Dietary changes may help relieve gut inflammation by modifying gut bacteria, but that's not the complete picture. Vegetables and fruits contain a number of important polyphenols and other compounds that promote a healthy microbiome and that has a direct impact on the body. Many flavonoids have been linked with improved blood pressure, blood sugar, heart disease risk, and more.

The newly bred corn is designed to contain high amounts of these anti-inflammatory compounds, potentially offering relief without the side effects of traditional medications. The study found that feeding mice this special corn was able to alleviate the symptoms of IBD. Similar positive changes were associated with a special type of genetically modified rice, which contains high amounts of a compound that reduces blood pressure.

Penn State professor of maize genetics Surinder Chopra explained:

In this study, we utilized two corn lines­ — one containing flavan-4-ols and one lacking flavan-4-ols — to investigate the anti-inflammatory property of that flavonoid. They are near isogenic lines, meaning that their genetic makeups are identical except for a few specific genetic loci that are responsible for generation of the flavonoids.