Australian scientists producing allergy-free eggs

Allergy-free eggs for use in consumption and vaccines are being developed by Australian scientists and could be available within the next decade.

Sufferers of egg anaphylaxis run the risk of accidentally consuming the product, which can result in death, as it is present in various food types.

And because egg whites are used in many vaccines, including the flu vaccine, those with the allergy cannot get such injections to ward of the common cold and other ailments including bird flu.

The research being conducted by Deakin University, in collaboration with the CSIRO and the Poultry Co-Operative Research Centre is expected to take three years to complete.

Allergy-free vaccines could be available within five years and allergy-free eggs could be available in supermarkets for human consumption in five to 10 years.

Adjunct Professor Tim Doran Project Leader at the CSIRO’s Animal Health Laboratory, is father to an anaphylactic child and believes the research could be a life-changer for families who worry about their child going into anaphylactic shock due to accidental consumption.

“The effect of this type of allergy on the whole family is immense because in many cases all food has to be prepared in the home as you can’t guarantee that food purchased outside the home won’t have traces of egg white,” he said.

"We recently did a long-haul flight with the family and had to prepare all meals to take on the plane," he said.

Associate Professor Cenk Suphioglu from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences said that new parents are often very nervous about serving eggs to their infants for the first time.

"There is evidence that new parents are exposing their infants to egg products for the first time in the car parks of major children’s hospitals just so they are close to medical attention in case their child reacts adversely," he said.

Allergy-free eggs would make it less stressful for parents to introduce their child to the food.

The research by Deakin PhD candidate, Pathum Dhanapala, under the co-supervision of Associate Professor Suphioglu and Adjunct Professor Doran, will involve switching off the allergenic part of the protein in the chicken egg white and then reintroducing the protein to the egg in a non-allergenic form.

There are 40 proteins in egg white and four main allergens.

These allergens will be switched off to create a hypoallergenic egg which will produce chickens who will then lay allergy-free eggs.

Adjunct Professor Doran explained that the proteins in the egg are being modified, not the genes or DNA of the chickens, using RNAi technology that has previously been used by CSIRO to modify important traits in crops.

"We are not producing genetically modified chickens as part of this research, we are simply modifying the proteins within the egg whites to produce chickens which lay allergy-free eggs," he said.

"This is a completely novel approach in that previous egg-allergy research has cloned the egg-white-allergen genes but no-one has gone as far as to make the proteins non-allergenic," Suphioglu said.

"We have enjoyed huge support from the poultry industry in recent years to help us research chickens and this research is being funded by the Poultry CRC.” Doran said.

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