The discovery could lead to genetically-engineered peanuts without the allergens.
According to Food Allergy Research and Education, just eight foods account for 90 percent of all food reactions — and the peanut is one of them. About three million people in the US report allergies to peanuts, and the allergy is commonly found around the globe.
Reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers decoded the entire genome of the modern peanut’s ancestor, known as Arachis duranensis, in hopes of pinpointing the peanut genes behind the common allergy.
The international team was able to identify over 50,000 proteins and then compared them to the known allergenic proteins in peanuts and a number of other related crops, like soybeans. By doing so, the researchers identified 21 genes that appear to encode for allergens, and nine of these are found in modern peanuts.
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Having pinned down the nine culprits behind the allergy-causing proteins, the team suggests it might be possible to develop new genetically-engineered peanuts that lack certain genes.
"This discovery brings us that one step closer to creating peanuts that will have significant benefits globally," Professor Rajeev Varshney, the research program director of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), said in a statement.
"We will also be able to produce peanuts that have more health benefits with improved nutritional value.”
In addition to the protein, fiber, and folic acid packed in peanuts, the Harvard Health Blog informs that peanuts may play a role in preventing heart disease. Engineering peanuts that would be safe for everyone to eat could enable people to add a snack with nutritional value to their diets — not to mention the joy of peanut butter.
And to end on a note that may come as surprising to some — peanuts aren’t actually nuts. They’re legumes.
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