Genetically modified chickens lay allergen-free eggs

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In a new study, researchers genetically edited chickens to remove the allergen protein ovomucoid, producing allergy-free eggs. Inverted Couple Images / Getty Images
  • Egg allergies are common and often difficult to treat, leading to a range of unpleasant symptoms.
  • One area of ​​interest is how to alter chicken genetics 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 research is needed.

Allergies occur when the body has an adverse or abnormal reaction to a foreign substance.

Egg allergies are common and can 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 reactions 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 investigated the possibility of altering chicken genetics to remove ovomucoid from eggs.

The researchers found that the method they used produced eggs that may be safe for specific use in people with egg allergies.

People with egg allergies can experience a variety of reactions, including vomiting, diarrhea, or a skin rash. Severe egg allergies can even cause life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.

Someone with an egg allergy should try not to eat eggs, but this can be challenging. Many products contain eggs, so parents and people of all ages should read food labels carefully and be extra vigilant to make sure there are no eggs in any food.

Egg allergies can be stressful for anyone – and some kids may worry about being different from their peers. In some cases, children may outgrow egg allergies as they get older.

Non-study author and general practitioner Dr. Blen Tesfu, a medical consultant at Welzo, explained Medical news today:

“Egg allergies are relatively common, especially in children. They are usually caused by an allergic reaction to proteins in egg whites, such as ovalbumin or ovomucoid. The impact of egg allergies can extend beyond dietary restrictions. Eggs are widely used in a variety of food products, including baked goods, sauces, dressings, and processed foods, requiring people with egg allergies to read ingredient labels carefully and avoid foods that contain eggs or egg-derived ingredients.

Researchers in the current study tried to help people with egg allergies. They hypothesized that by removing the protein that causes the allergic reaction, you could make an allergy-free egg. These eggs may therefore be safer for people with egg allergies to consume.

The specific protein they studied was ovomucoid, which is responsible for many egg allergies. Researchers investigated how genetically engineered chickens could produce ovomucoid-free eggs.

Their method used transcriptional activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs). These proteins help to cut and thus change DNA. Researchers deleted the ovomucoid gene in two chicken strains. They then tested the produced eggs for safety.

Researchers found that the eggs of genetically altered chickens had no ovomucoid or ovomucoid mutations. Their findings point to the safety of these eggs as a creation that removes major allergy concerns.

Study author Ryo Ezaki, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Integrated Sciences for Life at Hiroshima University, Japan, explained in a press release:

“These results indicate the importance of safety evaluation and show that the eggs were laid by this OVM [ovomucoid] knockout chicken solves the allergy problem in food and vaccines. The next research phase will be to evaluate the physical properties and processing suitability of OVM [ovomucoid] knock out 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 eggs in food or vaccines can cause 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 food options and reduce anxiety around food. In addition, 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.”

We probably won’t see allergy-free egg products on supermarket shelves just yet. Experts in this field may need to conduct further testing to ensure safety.

The researchers acknowledge that based on the full analysis, people who experience an allergic reaction to small amounts of ovomucoid may still experience a reaction or problems.

But researchers think these ovomucoid-zero eggs can be safely used in heat-processed foods in people with egg allergies.

Authorities would also have to decide how to warn consumers about genetically modified products. Dr. Tesfu explained:

“The introduction of these eggs into the food supply would need to be carefully managed given the concerns of potential consumers about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Thorough and transparent safety evaluations, as noted in the study, would be critical to gaining public acceptance. Finally, while these results are promising, more research is likely needed to understand the full implications and possible 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 could ultimately lead to significant benefits for the public.

Non-research 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 lesser-known cousin of the famous CRISPR complex, Ezaki et al. show that the removal of a key allergen can be performed with a high degree of safety. What I find most refreshing about the research is that the work is done with great care and presents fundamental data on which a clinical application can undoubtedly be built.”

Genetically modified chickens lay allergen-free eggs

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