I am deathly allergic to peanuts. I have wondered for some time if I’m allergic to all peanuts or whether certain strains of peanuts might be more or less likely to trigger my body’s overreaction to what should be a mundane protein. This, it turns out, is the focus of some research recently presented by Eliot Herman.
Herman is using soybeans which are a common allergen and their impact on pigs, an animal that has a relatively common soy allergy. He studies pigs because the allergy is similar to that seen in humans. Specifically, it is a protein found in soy that people (and pigs) are reacting to. So while most people are familiar with drugs aimed at treating the reaction like EpiPens (a shot of adrenaline) and anti-histamines, but what Herman is focused on in this research is trying to reduce the allergen in the soy itself.
Herman has approached this in two ways: genetic modification (GMO) and natural breeding. In the GMO version, Herman partnered with the company DuPont to manipulate the DNA of the soy to change or remove the protein. In the natural breeding version of the research, Herman worked with others to identify a variation of soybean that naturally does not have the protein. Then, with breeding, this variant can become more prolific and produce more of the soybean crop.
This is quite fascinating to me. On the one hand, I’m excited by the prospect of reducing the allergens present in various foods. I don’t really care about eating a handful of peanuts but I would like to have a little more freedom in choosing foods and perhaps explore some foods of some other cultures that I’ve had to shy away from out of an abundance of caution. But, on the other hand, I worry somewhat about the repercussions of modifying nature in the ways that we do. What caused these allergies in the first place? Why do our bodies attack overreact to harmless substances? Will modifying the plants fix problems without causing other ones?
This will definitely be research to follow.