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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Scientist Earns Award for Work to Build a Safer Nut / January 22, 2004 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service


National news release


News story about Maleki's research (July 03)

Scientist Earns Award for Work to Build a Safer Nut

By Erin Kendrick-Peabody
January 22, 2004

NEW ORLEANS, La., Jan. 22—For her work towards developing a safer, hypoallergenic peanut, biochemist Soheila J. Maleki has been named the Agricultural Research Service's "Mid South Area Early Career Research Scientist for 2003." Honored today in a ceremony in here, Maleki will receive a plaque, cash award and additional funding for her research.

ARS, celebrating its 50th year, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency. Its Mid South Area comprises Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Maleki is based at the agency's Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC) in New Orleans. In the five and one-half years that she has worked for ARS, Maleki has made key discoveries regarding the allergenic properties of peanuts. An estimated 1.5 million Americans are allergic to peanuts and peanut products.

"In screening for a naturally occurring hypoallergenic peanut, Dr. Maleki has found a variety that lacks one of the most potent allergens," said Edward B. Knipling, acting administrator for ARS. "This peanut variety is currently being cross-bred with other varieties found by scientists, to produce a hypoallergenic peanut."

One goal of her research is to provide food manufacturers with a peanut that can replace the ones typically found in products like peanut butter and mixed nuts. For some allergy sufferers, accidental ingestion of peanuts can be fatal.

Maleki has also determined how various processing methods can affect the allergenicity of peanuts. In a study last year, she led a team of scientists in SRRC's Food Processing and Sensory Quality Research Unit in finding that roasting peanuts causes a marked increase in their allergenic properties.

The early career award is given to ARS scientists who have made outstanding scientific contributions, been with the agency seven years or less and completed their highest academic degree within the past 10 years.

Maleki was born in Iran and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Tennessee, and her doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, in Little Rock.

Last Modified: 2/19/2014
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