Researchers at the US Department of Agricultural believe that they will be able to breed peanuts with significantly lower levels of allergens

A peanut that significantly reduces the risk of an allergic reaction could be produced, say US scientists. The research is a major step forward in overcoming a potentially dangerous condition in children and adults.

Research scientist Soheila Maleki from the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in New Orleans described results of her studies of 900 varieties of peanut at the congress of the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in London in June. She and her team were looking for variations in the levels of the allergens (proteins that cause allergy). Genetic mutations in some varieties showed a lack or lower levels of one of the major allergens. “We wanted to find out if it was possible to breed these varieties without some of the allergens,” she said.

The ARS team found that some of the second-generation peanut seeds had significantly reduced levels of the allergens. They also discovered that these same allergens were less able to bind to antibodies in the body that cause the allergic reaction.

It is estimated that allergies to peanuts, nuts and nut oils affect effect between 0.8-1.5% of people, and children are particularly vulnerable. The severity of an allergic reaction varies from person to person, ranging from a rash to digestive problems to anaphylactic shock that could cause a person to collapse.

Professor Maleki said, “Through conventional breeding, we have shown it is possible to significantly reduce or eliminate more than one allergen. We hope this will ultimately lessen the development and the severity of the allergic response to peanuts.” Future studies will involve breeding peanuts that lack major allergens, with a view to developing a peanut that significantly reduces the potential for allergy.


First published in June 2010

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