An EU-funded project called Protall set up to investigate food allergens of plant origin has recently reported its findings.
It has been estimated that between four and eight million people across the EU have some type of food allergy, a number of which are of plant origin, notably from seeds and grains (such as peanut, mustard, soya, wheat), fruits and vegetables (such as plums, apples and celery) and pollen (such as birch).
The Protall project was set up to improve understanding of factors that may be important in predisposing certain plant food proteins to becoming allergens, as well as to develop ideas and strategies to increase the efficiency of processing methods to remove allergenic determinants and improve food quality. It was also charged with compiling a searchable database with biochemical and clinical information on plant food allergens.
The project found that almost all plant food allergens are either protective or storage proteins in the plant. It was also evident that those proteins which trigger the development of an allergic response through the gastro-intestinal tract belong primarily to two protein superfamilies: the cereal prolamin superfamily (as is found in brazil nut, peaches and cereals such as rice and wheat) and the cupin family (found in peanuts and soya beans).
The creation of the Protall database was a major achievement, as it contains biochemical and clinical information about plant food allergens involved in classical IgE-induced hypersensitivity reactions and about 77 allergens from 48 plant species.
The information in the database is understandable by a graduate level scientist or health professional, although anyone is free to search it. It can be found at www.ifr.bbsrc.ac.uk/protall