Science - March 30, 2006

Hypoallergenic Brazil nut

Allergic to Brazil nuts and still able to eat them? This might be possible in the future, if Evelien van Boxtel’s PhD project turns out to be successful.

Like peanuts, Brazil nuts can cause serious allergic reactions. Some people’s immune system reacts so strongly to the proteins in Brazil nuts that exposure to them can be fatal. For this reason food manufacturers have to indicate on the label if their products contain Brazil nuts or traces of them.

‘We are trying to find out whether it is possible to neutralise the allergenic proteins in Brazil nuts,’ explains Van Boxtel. ‘We are searching for treatment methods that would stop the proteins from reacting with the antibodies of someone who is allergic to Brazil nuts. Manufacturers could use these treatment methods to produce hypoallergenic foods containing Brazil nut ingredients.

Van Boxtel is focusing on the allergenic protein Ber e 1. In the March edition of Molecular Nutrition & Food, she describes how she has managed to isolate the protein from Brazil nuts. ‘We did not think it was a good idea to use recombinant techniques to produce Ber e 1,’ continues Van Boxtel. ‘A tiny difference in structure between the genuine and the recombinant protein would be enough to cause the immune system to react differently.’ / WK

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