An international group of scientists may have just opened the door to the creation of genetically engineered peanuts that do not provoke allergic reactions, after identifying which of the legume’s genes are responsible for this effect.
Alongside some other more questionable substances, peanuts are among the most popular things to have come out of South America, although like these other exports, the peanut also poses some considerable health risks. Around 1 percent of Americans and 3 percent of Australians are thought to be allergic to the protein-rich snack, making peanuts one of the most common food allergies in the world.
To determine why this is the case, the study authors decoded the entire genome of the modern peanut’s ancestor, known as Arachis duranensis. In doing so, they identified the genetic blueprints for more than 50,000 proteins.
When comparing these to known allergenic proteins in both peanuts and a range of other related crops – such as soybeans – the researchers were able to identify 21 genes that appear to encode for allergens, nine of which remain present in modern peanuts. The study has since been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Having located the genes responsible for these allergy-causing proteins, the study authors believe it may soon be possible to develop new “genetic or medical approaches to allergy mitigation,” possibly involving the creation of modified peanuts that lack certain genes.
Commenting on this finding, study co-author Rajeev Varshney explained that “this discovery brings us that one step closer to creating peanuts that will have significant benefits globally.” For instance, as well as eradicating allergies, he believes it may soon be possible to create peanuts with greater nutritional value.
Given that the legume is about 24 percent protein by weight, it is an excellent source of this key dietary element, particularly in areas where food is scarce. It is also high in fiber, folic acid and resveratrol, which help protect against cancer, neural degradation and cardiovascular diseases.