Scientists are working on genetically modifying apples so that they no longer cause allergic reactions.

Although apples are not one of the top eight food allergens, a significant amount of people do react to them.

In addition, an estimated 75 percent of people who are allergic to birch pollen also have an apple allergy because the pollen protein is similar to a protein in apples.

“Some people who are allergic may simply say they don’t like apples since they’ve a very mild reaction after eating them,” explains Eric van de Weg, a plant scientist at the Netherlands’ Wageningen University, “but others will suffer blistering, problems catching their breath and swollen lips, tongue and throat.”

Genetically Engineering Apples

This gives scientists reason to engineer the popular fruit so that it no longer triggers allergies. Van de Weg is among a group of European research scientists attempting to develop a new, non-allergenic apple.

“We wanted to increase the low availability of hypo-allergenic fruit but also come to a better understanding of the genes and proteins involved,” he explains. After finding the proteins responsible for the allergic reaction, gene silencing could ‘switch off’ the genes that produce these proteins.

Controversy over GM Fruits

While reducing allergens in the food supply is important, it is also controversial. Lynn Frewer, a risk communication expert at Newcastle University in the UK, has conducted studies about how consumers view genetically modified fruits.

“Although consumers – and in particular food-allergic consumers – were more positive about the [GM] apple, there was still a clear preference for traditional breeding methods applied to the same end if possible, even for food allergic consumers,” she explains.

Another option may be looking at existing varieties of apples to breed allergy-friendly varieties. It is known that certain varieties, including Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples, are more likely to cause allergic reactions than others, such as Gloster and Jonagold apples, according to Allessandro Botton, a plant geneticist at the University of Padova, Italy.

What do you think of the idea of genetically modifying food to remove allergens?

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