Allergy-free peanuts being researched

Posted on: Sun, 02/16/2003 - 6:18pm
Nick's picture
Joined: 11/01/2000 - 09:00

As reported in the Daily Mail (UK) today : all copyrights etc. acknowledged.

The threat of peanut allergy could soon be wiped out by genetic engineering, scientists have revealed. In laboratory tests, they have succeeded in altering the make-up of the peanut so that it no longer triggers a life-threatening reaction.

The "safe" peanuts are part of a new generation of allergy-free food being produced by several international scientific teams. Others being developed include seafood and soya beans, engineered to be less of a risk.

In Britain, the number of children developing potentially fatal allergies to nuts has trebled in the last decade. Almost 1 in every 30 children is now thought to suffer from peanut allergy, which can cause swelling of the tongue, wheezing and difficulty in breathing. In the worst cases, the allergy can be fatal, killing around 10 people in this country each year.

Many experts blame the rise on more women eating peanuts when they are pregnant or breastfeeding, which could sensitise their children. Now, scientists led by Dr. Wesley Burks, at the University of Arkansas, are trying to use genetic engineering to modify specific proteins that give the peanut its allergenicity.

In experiments, they have succeeded in modifying the genes that produce two major peanut proteins so that they are no longer allergenic in lab tests. Several studies are also under way on allergy-free prawns, experts told the American Association for Advancement of Science's annual conference, for which 6000 of the world's leading scientists gathered in Denver, Colorado.

One in 500 people is believed to suffer from an allergic reaction to seafood : usually a rash. In asthma sufferers, they can cause more serious breathing difficulties. Scientists at Tulane University in New Orleans say the allergic reactions are caused by a protein in the shellfish : called tropomyosin.

Research leader, Dr. Samuel Lehrer said : "We have altered the make-up of shrimp to reduce or abolish their ability to be allergenic". Dr. Lehrer said that so far, he has not tasted the allergy-free shrimp. "But I would assume it will be just as delicious as the regular stuff", he said. "With the subtle changes we are making, I would not anticipate any change in flavour".

To create a less allergenic soya bean, another team of scientists removed a protein that accounts for about 65% of the allergenicity. Dr. Elliot Herman, a molecular biologist at the US Department of Agriculture, and the leader of the soya bean project, said : "As far as we can tell, we have removed the allergen and we've made no other changes whatsoever".

Opponents of genetic technology warn that tampering with food crops could damage human health over the long term. But Dr. Lehrer said that extensive safety tests would be carried out before the allergy-free shellfish became available. "It's going to be a few years before you will see this being offered in restaurants", he said.


Posted on: Sun, 02/16/2003 - 11:25pm
Peg541's picture
Joined: 12/29/2002 - 09:00

I wonder, when and if this becomes a long will it take to get rid of the real peanuts? How long will it be before any of us trust the new peanuts?
And given the flap here in USA about genetically altered tomatoes, would anyone (maybe tree huggers) fight the existence of genetically altered peanuts?

Posted on: Sun, 02/16/2003 - 11:32pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Nick, very interesting stuff, indeed. [img][/img]
Peg541, I'm with you. I echo your sentiments exactly. Personally, I don't think I would ever try one and I don't even have PA. But then again, who knows?
Best wishes! [img][/img]

Posted on: Sun, 02/16/2003 - 11:35pm
Nick's picture
Joined: 11/01/2000 - 09:00

I would fear crop contamination by cross-pollination [img][/img](

Posted on: Mon, 02/17/2003 - 12:42am
Peg541's picture
Joined: 12/29/2002 - 09:00

But, if the genetically altered peanuts make it possible for my son to walk into his college cafeteria with his friends and blithely choose safe foods then I am all for them!
If they make it possible for an accidental ingestion to not kill our kids, who would vote against them?

Posted on: Mon, 02/17/2003 - 4:38am
williamsmummy's picture
Joined: 03/26/2002 - 09:00

dont worry give the new peanuts a few years and we will all be allergic to them!!!

Posted on: Mon, 02/17/2003 - 8:37am
Sue's picture
Joined: 02/13/1999 - 09:00

I wish they would focus on finding out what happened to the "old" peanut. Wonder where they are getting the money for this project?
Sue in Sunny Arizona

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