Presenting research results at a congress of the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in London, lead scientist Professor Soheila Maleki said that low-allergy peanuts could be produced within the next two to five years.
The researchers removed two major allergens or proteins that cause allergy without using genetic modification. They also identified peanuts which are missing a third major allergen, leading to the possibility of adding these into the mix.
The scientists will now investigate whether the peanut developed without the harm-causing proteins can produce naturally-occurring seeds with the same reduced allergy potential.
“For those who suffer badly, it can be like living in fear of a poisonous snake bite,” said Maleki. With more than 30 different proteins, peanuts are a complex plant food. According to the Amercian Peanut Council website: “Research is underway to identify exactly which proteins trigger an allergic reaction, and why the reaction can vary in severity among allergy sufferers. Peanut allergy appears to be progressive—subsequent reactions tend to be more severe.”
Most food allergy sufferers experience mild reactions including varying degrees of hives, swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing and vomiting. But a small proportion of susceptible sufferers may experience severe and potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.
The latest research suggests that those children who consumed low-allergy peanuts would be less likely to become allergic to all peanuts.
Plus people who are already allergic may need a much higher dose before they suffered a reaction, said Maleki who works at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in New Orleans.
The researchers also suggested the possibility of an anti-allergy vaccine based on the same principle.
Although there is no definitive nationwide study of the prevalence of peanut allergies, telephone research conducted by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, found that peanut and/or tree nut allergy affects about 1.1% of the population, or about 3m Americans.
Based on the results of this survey, scientists concluded that the reported rate of peanut allergy in children more than tripled in the 11 years up to 2008, according to a recent report in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
2.4 percent of children were reported to have peanut and/or tree nut allergies in 2008, compared with 0.6 percent in 1997. Researchers telephoned 5,300 households during 2008, representing 13,534 individuals.