Allergen-free shrimp? seafood marks a place in food safety research

s around the eyes, throat, skin, and mouth.

Improved detection methods for unknown food allergens can also contribute toward better safety for new food products that are altered through genetic engineering, according to Lehrer, who is in the process of developing an immunological test, with mice, to check foods for allergenicity.

Work on altering animal-based allergens is generally much less further along than that for plant-based food allergens, for which breeding programs and food processing have been used to address allergenicity. Now, working directly at the gene level may put allergen-free peanuts, soybeans, or shrimp on our dinner plates someday, according to Lehrer. "Theres concern that new epitopes can be made," Lehrer says of the techniques used to transfer genes in and out of a food plant or animal.

While testing for known allergens has been established, testing proteins that may be expressed in genetically modified foods, which have no previous human exposure, is needed. This scenario raises an interest in developing models for testing allergenicity, says Lehrer, who is developing a mouse-based model to test exactly this. "If theres a way to validate the mouse responses are similar to the human response, this would be a useful way to screen novel proteins. We saw very good responses to peanut allergens and shrimp allergens and they seem to be similar to human responses. Now, we want to look at responses on an epitope level." Lehrer is also looking at less commonly allergenic materials, like rice, beef and corn.

The biotechnology used to alter food products can also be used to improve food safety by preventing the production of allergy-causing agents, according to Lehrer, who describes his work with shrimp as an example. Lehrer has located the gene sequence that encodes the shrimp allergen and regions of the sequences for the different molecules that interact with the antibody IgE. By altering the epitopes in shrimp alle


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