Scientists tackle allergen challenge at ground zero – allergen-free peanuts, gluten-free beer

Posted by Lani Thorpe on 5th November 2018

COULD genetic mapping allow allergy sufferers to enjoy peanuts without risk of anaphylaxis?

That’s something scientists at the University of Western Australia hope could one day be a possibility, after completing an international study as part of a global research team decoding the genes of peanuts.

With allergies on the increase in Australia and globally, food producers are catering to a growing need for allergen-free goods as consumer demand rises.

UWA’s research points to a future where specially grown, allergen-free peanut crops could become a reality, opening the door to a potential new market of peanut products safe for those with allergies.

UWA adjunct professor Rajeev Varshney, who played a lead role in the study, says through mapping the genes of peanuts, along with other crops including chickpea, pigeon pea and pearl millet, the research team was able to isolate the specific genes which cause allergic reactions — sometimes life-threatening — for around three per cent of the Australian population.

“We identified some genes which are responsible for the allergen,” Dr Varshney told ABC News. Now that the genes have been isolated, the next step for the scientists is to develop a new strain of peanuts without those genes, which would then be allergen free.

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Gluten-free beer

Another top troublemaker for allergy sufferers is gluten, in particular for those with coeliac disease — an autoimmune disorder in which gluten causes damage to the small bowel — affecting one in 70 Australians, according to Coeliac Australia. But even for those with mild gluten intolerance, or for the growing number of consumers who simply perceive gluten-free food to be healthier, demand for gluten-free products is increasing rapidly, with the global market projected to reach $7.59 billion by 2020.

It’s no surprise, then, that food producers are scrambling to think outside the box when it comes to gluten alternatives.

What could prove a game changer in the beverage industry is a new barley-based beer, made with kebari — a grain grown in South Australia and NSW. It’s expected to hit the market next year as the first commercially brewed, full-flavoured gluten-free beer, produced by German brewer Radeberger.

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