CLEMSON, S.C. — Peanuts are an affordable source of proteins and are an important source of beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Despite its unique nutrient profile and affordability, the peanut is also a primary source of food allergies. Peanuts contain specific proteins that are allergenic, causing dangerous and sometimes life-threatening reactions in peanut-sensitive individuals. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) is awarding a $299,922 Seeding Solutions grant to Clemson University to develop reduced allergenic, high-oleic peanut genotypes, essentially reducing the allergens within peanuts while increasing the healthy fats. Clemson University, North Carolina State University and The University at North Carolina at Chapel Hill provided matching funds for a total $609,816 investment.
“This novel research offers a solution to peanut allergy,” said Dr. Saharah Moon Chapotin, FFAR executive director. “Current remedies for peanut allergy target the human response to the allergens, not the peanut allergens themselves. This project has two main goals: make peanuts less allergenic by reducing the number of allergen-causing proteins, while also increasing the amount of healthy oil.”
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, peanuts, along with tree nuts, are responsible for 90% of allergy-related fatalities. Allergic reactions to peanuts are caused by the allergenic proteins that peanuts contain. Researchers will use a variety of methods, including germplasm screening and gene editing, to reduce the quantity of allergen-causing proteins. The research also will simultaneously increase the amount of high-oleic fatty acids in peanuts, which offer many of the health benefits typically associated with olive oil, including helping to lower bad cholesterol, raising good cholesterol and promoting good overall cardiovascular health.
Clemson University researchers are developing reduced immunogenicity peanut genotypes using conventional plant breeding and genome editing approaches. The team will evaluate peanut genotypes for their protein content and composition using biochemical and immunological assays for their safety for peanut-sensitive individuals. The biochemical assays include electrophoresis, chromatography and mass spectrometry, and the immunological assays include enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and activation tests of basophil immune cells (BAT). Researchers will develop these genotypes in peanuts with high oleic acid content.
“These genotypes will carry the dual benefit of being non-inducive for sensitive individuals and non-conducive for cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Sachin Rustgi, principal investigator and associate professor at Clemson University Pee Dee Research and Education Center. “In addition, these genotypes will serve as an affordable alternative to recently approved oral immunotherapy, if administered under medical guidance, and will trigger a less severe reaction in peanut-allergic individuals upon exposure. Hence, these genotypes will alleviate the need to create and maintain a peanut-free environment and likely reduce peanut allergy management costs. We are working with producer-driven commodity boards, such as South Carolina Peanut Board and the National Peanut Board, and now with the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research; these grants allow for fostering the ties between the research team and the producers, which is vital for the release of these genotypes, their production and consumption.”
This research has numerous benefits. Consumers will benefit from the readily available and affordable reduced-immunogenicity peanut genotypes. Also, the availability of such peanut genotypes will allow peanut-insensitive individuals to enjoy an allergen-safe variety in public settings such as schools and airplanes, where peanuts and derived products are not served to create accommodation for sensitive individuals. Peanut genotypes with high oleic and low linoleic content will additionally exhibit long shelf-life and tolerance to heat stress, benefiting growers, producers and consumers. These peanut genotypes will create a healthy choice for farmers in low-income countries who farm for sustenance and generally do not have options to switch crops due to soil health, fiscal, political or social reasons.
The reduced-immunogenicity, high-oleic peanut genotypes and resources developed during this project will be made freely available to public peanut breeding programs in the U.S. and elsewhere.
–Samantha Bader, Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research