New and Improved: GM Foods Could Even Relieve Anxiety
Steve L. Taylor, head of the department of food science at the University of Nebraska says GM crops will become important in lowering allergic reactions to foods. Eight foods account for 90% of all food allergies; these include peanuts, milk, eggs, soybeans, and wheat. Ongoing studies at Alabama A&M University are removing allergenic proteins from the peanut, so that everyone might some day be able to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without fear.
Beyond increasing crop yield, lowering pesticide use, or merely creating a redder tomato with a longer shelf life, genetic technology has great potential for improving health care. At a briefing today sponsored by the American Medical Association (AMA), researchers reviewed their progress toward using genetic modification to create vaccines in crops, and to remove allergies from them.
Perhaps the biggest concern about genetically modified (GM) crops involves possible allergic reactions to novel proteins introduced in the process. (The concern which is not just hypothetical after the appearance of Starlink GM feed corn in human groceries, although there is no documented proof of anyone having been harmed.)
"None of the current biotech products have been implicated in allergic reactions or any other healthcare problem in people," said Steve L. Taylor, head of the department of food science at the University of Nebraska. He added that with only a few hundred known plant allergens, "the chances of introduced genes creating a problem are very low."
On the contrary, he says, GM crops will become important in lowering allergic reactions to foods. Eight foods account for 90% of all food allergies; these include peanuts, milk, eggs, soybeans, and wheat. Ongoing studies at Alabama A&M University are removing allergenic proteins from the peanut, so that everyone might some day be able to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without fear.
"Biotechnology offers the only hope for consumers to one day incorporate these foods into their diet," Taylor said. He also says that current regulations seem to be doing a good job of controlling any introduction of new allergens. For instance, his tests on soybeans that incorporated a protein from Brazil nuts to boost their methionine content, created by Pioneer Hybrid in 1996 to enrich feed stocks, showed that the Brazil-nut protein was highly allergenic. "When we tested the protein, we found that antibodies reacted to it in eight out of ten people with Brazil-nut allergies," he told BioMedNet News. The product was never marketed.
Alexander Karasev, professor of microbiology and immunology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, chimed in for edible vaccines. He described a trial in Poland testing spinach that contains a virally expressed protein epitope used in a rabies vaccine.
After participants ate a small salad, said Karasev, "we got a good immunological response and substantive titer of antibodies." (There was one adverse reaction, Karasev admitted: Two of the sixteen participants said they hate spinach.)
"The two things determining this research are safety and cost," he said, noting that vaccines grown in plants will have the greatest impact in the developing world. "The people who need vaccines the most are the ones who can afford it the least."
"The scale-up on this type of vaccine can be very simple, since all you would have to do is plant more acreage," said C.S Prakesh, director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology at Tuskeegee University.
Karasev also said that future use might involve drying the plants and then pressing them into traditional pill form. The process is currently being tested on a lettuce-based vaccine for Hepatitis B, a disease with 400 million carriers. "Hepatitis B is a good candidate for this technology," he said, "because we already have a good vaccine, but $450 for three vaccinations makes it too costly."
Why is the AMA suddenly speaking up for GM foods? So that
consumers can make informed choices, said one of the meeting organizers.