Allergy-free cashew nuts developed by scientists
Allergy free nuts could be coming to supermarket shelves within a few years after scientists discovered how to modify the dangerous proteins which can trigger deadly reactions.
Researchers in the US are already close to developing a safe cashew nut and are hoping to move on to other nuts.
Proteins in nuts trigger an allergic response which can range from mild itching in the mouth or skin, to life-threatening anaphylaxis, which makes it hard to breathe.
The response is caused by antibodies which latch on to the proteins. Scientists have discovered that they can change the shape of the proteins so that they pass unseen by the immune system.
"The only widely accepted practice for preventing an allergic reaction to nuts is strict avoidance, stay away from the food," said Dr Chris Mattison of the Agricultural Research Service, a branch of the US Department of Agriculture.
"Clinical trials to test immunotherapy are underway, but we're approaching it from an agricultural perspective rather than medical.
“Can we change the food, instead of treating the person, so we can eliminate or reduce severe reactions?"
Dr Mattison and his team discovered that treating cell proteins in the lab with a compound of sodium sulphite, they could change their shape.
"We found that that sodium sulfite can effectively disrupt the structure of the cashew allergens," he said.
"And we've done a couple of different tests to show we reduced antibody binding to the proteins when they've been treated with sodium sulfite."
Next, they plan to conduct experiments on whole nuts and test the modified proteins on cells in the lab to see how they respond.
Although this particular report focuses on cashew proteins, Mattison says the work could have broader implications.
"One of our goals is to apply our knowledge from the cashew experiments to other tree nuts and to peanuts," Dr Mattison added.
The study was presented at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco.