Now, new genetic studies show promise for putting allergen-free shrimp on our dinner plates someday, scientists said today at the 2003 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting.
"Its definitely possible that well have foods that are less of a risk for allergy," said Samuel B. Lehrer of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where shrimp is a key element of the local cuisine. "Theres a lot of work we need to do to be sure to know what to ask."
Lehrer and others are conducting studies on shrimp to better understand the genetic basis for the proteins in foods that cause allergic responses in some people. An expert in food allergens and allergen detection, Lehrer also addressed issues of allergenicity in new products being developed through genetic engineering, and gave an "understanding of the framework thats involved and changing, and a sense of whats being ensured so we dont have exposure to new allergens."
Research in shrimp allergenicity owes its recent strides to ongoing research in plant foods, such as soy and peanuts.
Food allergies are immune responses to proteins from foods that somehow did not get broken down by cooking or digestion. Instead, they entered the bloodstream and interact with antibodies on cells lining the gut, and in the nose, throat, skin, and lungs, for example. These cells then release chemical mediators including histamines, which create unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening allergic responses.
Lehrer has identified the major shrimp allergen and the epitopes--the allergenic portion of the moleculethat bind with an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). The reaction that results from the allergen or epitope causes classical allergic reactions of itchines