Scientists working at creating allergy-free eggs
The hypoallergenic egg team: Tim Doran (left), Cenk Suphioglu and Pathum Dhanapala
Of all the childhood allergies, an allergic reaction to eggs is one of the most common. Typically, reactions can include wheezing, nausea, headache, stomach ache, and hives. In extreme cases, however, anaphylactic shock can result, which can itself sometimes lead to death. Eggs are difficult to avoid, too - they find their way into many foods that might not seem particularly "eggy," and are even used in flu vaccines. Needless to say, for some time now, scientists have been working on making eggs safe for everyone. A team from Australia's Deakin University is now claiming that they're well on the way to producing not just hypoallergenic eggs, but the chickens that lay them.
The vast majority of egg allergy-sufferers are sensitive to four of the 40 proteins contained within egg whites. The Deakin team is working on extracting those four proteins, "switching off" the allergenic parts of them, then reintroducing the now-non-allergenic proteins back into the egg. The chicken subsequently born from that egg should in turn lay hypoallergenic eggs.
"We are not producing genetically modified chickens as part of this research, we are simply modifying the proteins within the egg whites to produce chickens which lay allergy-free eggs," explained the project leader, Adjunct Professor Tim Doran.
It is hoped that the three-year project will pay off in an allergy-free flu vaccine within five years, and consumable hypoallergenic eggs within five to ten years.
Previous projects, such as one conducted by German and Swiss chemists in 2008, have looked at ways in which regular eggs could be treated in order to make them safe for consumption by allergy-sufferers. Others have cloned the allergen genes, but this project is reportedly the first one that is attempting to render the proteins harmless.
Source: Deakin University
About the Author
An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.
All articles by Ben Coxworth
It is great that they are starting to isolate the proteins that cause a reaction. But do all people have that same list of sensitivities to the same proteins? That is my question.
(Excerpt from Food Allergy Facts and Statistics for the U.S. 2008)
Food Allergies are on the Rise
The prevalence of food allergies and associated anaphylaxis appears to be on the rise.
According to a study released in 2008 by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention about an 18% increase in food allergy was seen between 1997 and 2007...
(These stats apply to food allergies across the board. The following is 2008 U.S. stat for eggs:)
Milk and egg: based on data within and obtained outside the United States, this rate is
likely to be 1-2% for young children and 0.2-0.4% in the general population.
Considering that there has also been an increase in the amount of antibiotics, GMO feed, and confined animal feed ops in that same time frame, how do those of you with egg allergies react to organic, free range eggs as opposed to your corporate farmed supermarket eggs?
Sometimes I think scientists really lose focus of the bigger picture. We have already messed with animals, especially chickens, way too much. The average 'eating' chicken grows at 2-3 times the rate it should, the average laying chicken is so modified to lay hundreds of eggs a year that after a season or two they are totally spent and are sent off to be killed.
We have ex-layers that we've recued and they rarely live past a year or so out of the farm as they develop reproductive tract tumours and die, even the best avian vets tell us that they are unsavable. This is not normal for a healthy bird, yet most ex-farm chickens suffer this fate.
I really wish scientists would stop getting caught up on the wow factor of 'we can do that' and ask whether 'should we do that?'...
The sad thing is, most people look at chickens as just a dumb bird, but they are actually remarkably smart, and they all have different behaviours and personalities (no, I'm not anthropomorphising, anyone who has cared for chickens, as opposed to farming them, which is not caring for them at all, will know just how different they are). Humans treat them shockingly and it's scientists like this, doing this sort of work, that make it even worse...
If we stopped injecting the proteins into babies along with other material that their immune system is supposed to develop a sensitivity to we would not be having the epidemic of allergies.
Mr T,,, I would bet you wouldn't feel that way if you were allergic to eggs. I am, and I'm happy to hear someone is trying to do something about it!
While I sympathize with allergy sufferers, I have to wonder where it all is going to stop. Making eggs allergy-proof is not about the poor allergy sufferers, although they would have you think so. It's about profit, and the patent that the scientists can get on these kinds of eggs. Incredible money, here. Allergies to certain proteins exist in many different foods - grains, peanuts, shellfish, milk, etc. So does this mean that they will modify the proteins in all the foods that cause a problem? Altered food in any form is not normal if it came out of a laboratory, and I am floored that our gov't has given total permission for researchers to take over our food supply for experimentation and profit, regardless of the reason.
Research is a good thing, including GMOs. However widespread deployment of altered substances that will be irreversible to the environment should be carefully studied over a long period of time to determine the long term impacts. So far, I am not aware of anything like GMOs, or invasive species, etc., that have not had a far worse impact on the environment than if they were never introduced. Allergies are a very individual thing. Someone out there is allergic to just about anything. It is not that the substance is faulty, but the the allergic reaction is faulty. It creates a dilemma in that the modified proteins may very well create allergic reactions in a different group of people, or those who are sensitive to eggs might become sensitized to the new protein makeup. A lot of work and testing needs to be done to make sure that this is not trading one problem for another. If it passes all the tests, then great. However, companies prefer to rush a new thing to market for the profit potential, without safety testing, unless forced to by a government.
Never introduce your child to a new food, drink, or fabric when they are ill. for that matter try to avoid strange pollens.
Breast feeding and playing in the dirt, plus loving faces to gaze upon....these are natures fronline of robust, hardy, thriving children. The rest is catching up/compensating.
As for scientist's claim: "We are not producing genetically modified chickens as part of this research, we are simply modifying the proteins within the egg whites..." by "working on extracting those four proteins, "switching off" the allergenic parts of them, then reintroducing the now-non-allergenic proteins back into the egg. " It sounds like Gen Modds to me. Course it depends on what you mean by ".....
Over 160,000 people receive our email newsletter
See the stories that matter in your inbox every morning