Egg allergy: Genetically altered hens lay allergen-free eggs
- Egg allergies are common and are often difficult to deal with, leading to a range of unpleasant symptoms.
- One area of interest is how to alter the genetics of hens to remove proteins from eggs that cause allergies.
- A recent study found that removing the allergen protein ovomucoid from eggs made them appear safe for consumption, though further testing is needed.
Allergies occur when the body has a negative or abnormal reaction to a foreign substance.
Egg allergies are common and may develop during early childhood, resulting in unpleasant symptoms and leading to negative health outcomes.
The allergen protein ovomucoid is responsible for many of the allergic responses people with egg allergies experience. Now, genetic specialists may be able to eliminate an egg allergy at its source.
A recent study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology explored the possibility of altering the genetics of hens to remove ovomucoid from eggs.
The researchers found the method they used produced eggs that may be safe for specific uses among people with egg allergies.
How severe are egg allergies?
People with egg allergies can experience a variety of reactions, including vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Severe egg allergies may even trigger life threatening anaphylactic reactions.
A person with an egg allergy should try to avoid consuming eggs, but this can be challenging. Many products contain eggs, so parents and people of all ages must carefully read food labels and be extra vigilant to ensure that foods don’t have eggs in them.
Egg allergies could be stressful for anyone — and some children may worry about being different from their peers. In some cases, children may grow out of egg allergies as they age.
Non-study author and general practitioner Dr. Blen Tesfu, a medical advisor at Welzo, explained to Medical News Today:
“Egg allergies are relatively common, particularly in children. They are most often caused by an allergic reaction to proteins found in egg whites, such as ovalbumin or ovomucoid. The impact of egg allergies can extend beyond dietary restrictions. Eggs are widely used in various food products, including baked goods, sauces, dressings, and processed foods, making it necessary for individuals with egg allergies to carefully read ingredient labels and avoid foods that contain eggs or egg-derived ingredients.”
Developing allergen-free eggs
Researchers of the current study sought to help people with egg allergies. They hypothesized that by removing the protein that causes the allergic reaction, you could create an allergy-free egg. These eggs could, therefore, be safer for people with egg allergies to consume.
The particular protein they were studying was ovomucoid, which is responsible for many egg allergies. Researchers investigated how genetically edited hens could produce ovomucoid-free eggs.
Their method utilized transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs). These proteins aid in the cutting and, thus, alteration of DNA. Researchers removed the ovomucoid gene in two chicken strains. They then tested the produced eggs for safety.
Researchers found that the eggs from genetically altered hens did not have ovomucoid or mutations of ovomucoid. Their findings indicate the safety of these eggs as a creation that removes major allergy concerns.
Study author Ryo Ezaki, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Integrated Sciences for Life at Hiroshima University, Japan, explained in a news release:
“These results indicate the importance of safety evaluation and reveal that the eggs laid by this OVM [ovomucoid] knockout chicken solve the allergy problem in food and vaccines. The next phase of research will be to evaluate the physical properties and processing suitability of OVM [ovomucoid] knockout eggs and to confirm their efficacy through clinical trials.”
Dr. Tesfu noted what the new research could mean for people with egg allergies:
“For individuals with severe egg allergies, even trace amounts of egg in food or vaccines can trigger severe allergic reactions. With the development of OVM-knockout chickens, these individuals may be able to consume eggs and egg-derived products without fear of an allergic reaction. This could dramatically expand their dietary options and reduce anxiety around food. Moreover, since eggs are used in the production of certain vaccines (such as some types of flu vaccines), this development could potentially make these vaccines safer for people with egg allergies.”
Areas for further research
We likely won’t see allergy-free egg-containing products on grocery store shelves yet. Experts may need to do further testing in this area to ensure safety.
The researchers acknowledge that based on the full analysis, people who experience an allergic reaction to small amounts of ovomucoid could still experience a reaction or problems.
But researchers think these ovomucoid-null eggs could be safely used in heat-processed foods among people with egg allergies.
Agencies would also have to decide how to warn consumers about genetically altered products. Dr. Tesfu explained:
“The introduction of these eggs into the food supply would need to be carefully managed, given potential consumer concerns about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Thorough and transparent safety evaluations, as noted in the study, would be crucial in gaining public acceptance. Finally, while these results are promising, more research is likely needed to understand the full implications and potential side effects of this genetic modification on the chickens themselves and the broader ecosystem.”
However, the results demonstrate another practical application of gene editing that may ultimately lead to the public reaping significant benefits.
Non-study author Eric Kmiec, PhD, executive director and chief scientific officer of ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute told MNT:
“This study represents a step forward in the clinical application of gene editing. Using a gene editing tool, TALENs, the less well-known cousin of the famous CRISPR complex, Ezaki et al demonstrate that deletion of a key allergen can be carried out with a high degree of safety. What I find most refreshing about the study is that the work is carried out with great care presenting foundational data upon which a clinical application can no doubt be built.”
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