Join the Fight Against Peanut Allergens
By Amy Spillman
April 5, 2002
On average, Americans consume more than
six pounds of peanuts and peanut products each year. The nutty legumes are a
good source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, niacin and folic acid. They contain
mostly unsaturated fat, which has been shown to lower bad
LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. Unfortunately, for a small but growing
sector of the population, peanuts also induce an allergic reaction.
Agricultural Research Service
scientists in New Orleans, La., are looking for solutions to the peanut allergy
problem. In one research project, they are trying to determine how certain
processing methods affect peanut allergenicity. In another, they are looking to
see if certain peanut cultivars are less allergenic than others.
Soheila J. Maleki and Si-Yin Chung, at the ARS Southern Regional Research
Center (SRRC) in New
Orleans, have made several discoveries through this work. They have found that
roasting peanuts causes a marked increase in their allergenic properties.
Although a few other scientists have noted this correlation, no one has ever
suggested a reason why--until now.
Maleki recently published two papers addressing specific structural and
molecular/biochemical changes that raw peanut proteins undergo during roasting
that may contribute to increases in their allergenic properties. According to
Maleki, if there are processing methods that can increase the allergenic
properties of peanuts, there may also be processing methods that can reduce
Even if there arent, however, SRRC scientists may still be able to
create a safer nut. Maleki and collaborators are currently developing
antibodies against three of the best- characterized peanut allergens (Ara h 1,
Ara h 2 and Ara h 3). They hope to use these antibodies to screen the U.S. core
peanut germplasm collection and determine the levels of these allergens in each
cultivar. Cultivars with naturally lower levels of allergens could then be
crossbred to develop a hypoallergenic peanut plant.
So far, the researchers have screened part of the germplasm collection for
Ara h 1 and have found major differences in the levels of this allergen in
various cultivars. They are currently repeating these experiments to confirm
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.