Hypoallergenic Peanut in Future

Posted on: Thu, 03/14/2002 - 1:04am
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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Mar 07 -

Scientists at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are working on developing a hypoallergenic peanut, according to their presentation here on Tuesday at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology's annual meeting.

Previous research has identified certain varieties of soy that naturally lack a protein that triggers a reaction in people allergic to the food, explained Dr. Soheila J. Maleki of the USDA in New Orleans, Louisiana, during an interview with Reuters Health.

"We thought, why not look at the peanut and see if we can find natural varieties that lack
some or all of the protein-causing allergens," she said. "Then we could use conventional
cross-breeding experiments to see if we can develop a plant that would produce a
hypoallergenic peanut."

Seven proteins in peanuts have been identified as key triggers of allergic reactions. Two of
the seven, called Ara h1 and Ara h2, are believed to be the cause of 95% of allergic reactions in people with the nut allergy. The other five proteins only cause allergic reactions in about 50% of people with peanut allergies, Dr. Maleki noted.

Dr. Maleki and her team have begun screening peanut plants for the presence of Ara h1. To
simplify the process--because there are over 14,000 different varieties of peanut plants in
the US--the investigators are examining 100 varieties from a larger group of 800 plants that are thought to be genetically representative of all peanut plants.

Ideally, the researchers are hoping to find a peanut with high protein and low- or zero-levels of the Ara h1 or Ara h2 allergen proteins, Dr. Maleki told Reuters Health.

"If we find one variety with low levels of Ara h1 and we find another variety with low levels of Ara h2, then we can crossbreed those and have a plant that naturally has reduced levels," she said.

Although the researchers' preliminary efforts are going well, Dr. Maleki said it could be a few
years before they have an appropriately hypoallergenic peanut.

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