Lowering Food Allergies

The Issue

Common staples like cereal grains and milk provide critical sources of nutrition for many people, but can cause problems for people with food allergies. A food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by the immune system and it can result in diarrhea, vomiting and in the worst cases is life-threatening. Two foods that cause allergies in children, milk and wheat, do so because certain of their proteins are held together tightly with chemical "bungie cords" and are not digested. The allergens then interact with target cells in the small intestine, causing an allergic response.

What Has ANR Done?

Scientists at UC Berkeley demonstrated that a specific protein present in all living cells, thioredoxin (TRX), can break the chemical "bungie cords" that are often responsible for allergenicity. Using biotechnology, Bob Buchanan and Peggy Lemaux in the College of Natural Resources made wheat grains with higher levels of TRX, causing the chemical bonds of some of the allergenic proteins to relax. In preliminary experiments, dogs-- the closest model to humans in their allergic responses--exhibited less sensitivity to milk treated with TRX and to the modified, high-TRX wheat grain compared to standard wheat. This demonstrates that the approach can be used to reduce food allergenicity.

The Payoff

Scientists Demonstrate That Wheat and Milk Allergenicity Can Be Reduced

Researchers have demonstrated a method that could be adopted by industry to lower food allergies in common staple foods. Such an approach could provide a specialized market for certain foods and improve food safety for the nearly 4 million people in the U.S. who suffer from food allergies.


Supporting Unit: UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology

Peggy G. Lemaux
Department of Plant and Microbial Biology
University of California,Berkeley
Phone: 510-642-1589
email: lemauxpg@nature.berkeley.edu
Web: plantbio.berkeley.edu/~lemaux