Scientists around the world, are trying to find ways to give peanuts a makeover, without losing their pea-nutty character. All of these makeover plans rely on a little genetic engineering of one kind or another, so the special allergen free peanuts are likely to carry the GM label.
Pimple removing strategies
So how would you get rid of a ugly blemish on your face ? The reason why the peanut receives a hostile reception in many people.
First prize would be to permanently remove it – maybe a little cosmetic surgery would be able to cut it out, fixing the problem once and for all. If, plastic surgery was not an option, you would want to find a way to hide it, so no one would see it. Since putting a paper bag over your head would still draw too much attention to the carbuncle, you’re more likely to try to cover it with carefully colour matched makeup.
Nipping and tucking the peanut blemish
They tried to see if they could stop the peanut from producing the ugly lump. The first step was to understand, what proteins were causing the lump. In the case of peanuts, the carbuncle is actually caused by three different proteins, known as ARA proteins. So using a little bit of genetic tinkering, they cut out the genes that made the proteins in the peanut.PS. Today, biotechnologists have a clever little tool they use to switch genes off, so they don’t actually have to take them out, they just make sure the peanut plant never uses the genes.
But when the peanut plant doesn’t include those proteins in the peanut, the peanut winds up a wimp without a pimple. Wimpy peanuts aren’t good to eat, so cosmetic surgery is not going to produce a peanut which doesn’t cause an allergy.
So hiding the pimple is going to be the way to go. But how ?
Honey I shrunk the pimple
One way to hide the pimple is to find a way to make it a little smaller.
Scientists understand why the pimple is such a big problem, it has to do with the shape of a tiny part of the proteins. Using genetic engineering they hope to be able change the shape of the protein enough, to allow the plant to produce a peanut with a much smaller less offensive pimple.
Squeezing the pimple with a little enzyme
A scientist at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in America, has found a way to “squeeze” the pimple, so that the blemish is no longer visible. The technique that he discovered, uses an enzyme which decreases the size and colour of the pimple, so it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. The enzymes that are used, are produced with the help of genetic engineering.
Luckily, the enzyme treatment, doesn’t change the flavour, so the modified peanuts still taste like peanuts, even when they have been dipped in the enzyme mixture. But the method doesn’t work very well for raw peanuts, it only works well for roasted peanuts.
It will be some time before allergen-free peanuts are available in your local supermarket.
Scientists will have to do lots of experiments to make sure that the peanuts are really allergen free. They will have to show that the peanuts are safe for humans and animals, as well as safe for the environment. These types of tests are done on all genetically modified foods so once the food has been approved by the regulatory authorities, you can be pretty sure that it safe.
If you’re one of the millions of people who has never enjoyed a peanut butter sandwich or snacked on salty peanuts at a party – you can’t wait. The coming of a GM allergy free peanut will tickle your taste buds and lighten your anxiety levels.
Enzymatic treatment of peanut kernels to reduce allergen levels. Food Chemistry (2011) 127(3): 1014-1022. Jianmei Yu, Mohamed Ahmedna, Ipek Goktepe, Hsiaopo Cheng and Soheila Maleki
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