With an estimated 2.1% of the adult population allergic to shellfish, scientists are trying to find ways to reduce their allergenic potential.
While some researchers are concentrating on the use of genetic techniques, a team at the Ocean University of China is hoping to achieve the same result by non-GM means and have already found that treating prawns with a combination of irradiation and heat significantly reduces their allergens.
The Chinese researchers found that heating alone did not reliably reduce prawn allergens, and irradiation alone actually increased allergenicity, possibly due to the production of reactive amino acid residues from proteins damaged by the irradiation.
However, these residues were themselves denatured by subsequent heat treatment and the result of the combined treatments was a 20-fold reduction in one of the major allergens found in prawns.
The significance of this study is limited by its small size - only 18 subjects - and one food industry spokesperson has already voiced scepticism about public acceptance for a product that has been manipulated in this way.
News of the study will also be viewed with concern by those individuals who are intolerant to all irradiated food products, as it will by the consumer groups who are suspicious about the biological effects of food irradiation.
First published in July 2007
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