Health & Wellbeing

Making peanuts safe for allergy sufferers

Making peanuts safe for allerg...
UF researcher Wade Yang is using pulsed light to inactivate proteins within peanuts that trigger an allergic response (Photo: Shutterstock)
UF researcher Wade Yang is using pulsed light to inactivate proteins within peanuts that trigger an allergic response (Photo: Shutterstock)
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UF researcher Wade Yang is using pulsed light to inactivate proteins within peanuts that trigger an allergic response (Photo: Shutterstock)
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UF researcher Wade Yang is using pulsed light to inactivate proteins within peanuts that trigger an allergic response (Photo: Shutterstock)
Wade Yang, left, has used pulsed light to remove 80 percent of the allergens from a whole peanut (Photo: UF/IFAS file photo)
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Wade Yang, left, has used pulsed light to remove 80 percent of the allergens from a whole peanut (Photo: UF/IFAS file photo)

We've seen various research efforts aiming to cure nut allergies in people, from tricking the immune system into ignoring certain proteins to building up a tolerance, or using common gut bacteria. But Wade Yang from the University of Florida (UF) is taking a different approach. Rather than altering the body's response to peanut allergens, he is altering the peanuts themselves.

Yang, who is an assistant professor in food science and human nutrition and member of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is using pulsed light to inactivate proteins within peanuts that trigger an allergic response. Starting out two years ago using the technique on peanut extract, Yang has now moved onto whole peanuts.

The technique involves delivering pulses of ultraviolet light using a system that consists of two lamps filled with xenon, two cooling blowers, one treatment chamber with a conveyor belt, and a control module. The bursts of light reduce the allergenic potential of the major peanut proteins Ara h1-h3, so that human antibodies don't recognize them as allergens.

So far he has been able to remove 80 percent of peanut allergens from whole peanuts, with the ultimate goal to remove 99.9 percent (Yang says removing 100 percent of peanut allergens would run the risk of destroying a peanut's texture, color, flavor and nutrition). He adds that if the amount of allergenic protein per peanut can be cut from 150 mg to 1.5 mg, they would be safe for 95 percent of people with peanut allergies to eat.

"This process proves that pulsed light can inactivate the peanut allergenic proteins and indicates that pulsed light has a great potential in peanut allergen mitigation," Yang said. "The latest study moves one step closer to the actual production."

Wade Yang, left, has used pulsed light to remove 80 percent of the allergens from a whole peanut (Photo: UF/IFAS file photo)
Wade Yang, left, has used pulsed light to remove 80 percent of the allergens from a whole peanut (Photo: UF/IFAS file photo)

Although Yang's experiments have so far been restricted to the lab, he hopes to eventually conduct clinical trials on animals and humans. He has also only focused on peanuts, although pulsed light has also been shown to reduce allergen levels in soybean, almond and shrimp protein extracts.

His study appears online in the journal Food and Bioprocess Technology.

Source: University of Florida

4 comments
Don Duncan
I don't have a peanut allergy but I boycotted peanut butter in favor of almond butter, even thought it is over double the price. Peanuts contain a lot of pollutants, more than any other nut butter. I eat it straight or mixed with raw cacao, vanilla, and maple syrup.
Gadgeteer
I don't get it. What he's pursuing could produce peanuts that those with allergies could eat, but that's never really been a problem. Such people simply choose not to eat peanuts. The problem has always been that the allergic might unintentionally ingest allergens in foods contaminated by peanuts. This does nothing to reduce that risk, unless every peanut used in every product was treated with this technique, which would take an enormous amount of money and energy just to benefit the 0.06% of people they claim are afflicted.
The Skud
Sounds clever, but unless ALL peanut factories adopt (or is that adapt?) this, or another useful process, allergy sufferers will still be at risk, as any untreated peanuts will be around to knock them over. It would be nice to see one of the big 'agribusiness' companies trying to GM peanuts to help sufferers, but there is probably not enough money in it.
Slowburn
It would be useful at least in making relief supplies because except for the allergy problem peanuts is highly nutritious.