GMO Need to Know: What are allergens?

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Before you can discuss the good, bad, and unknowns of genetically modified organisms, it’s important to have a grasp of basic concepts that you’ll run into often. During the next few months, we’ll break down the key terms in a user-friendly way. Today’s topic: allergens.

What is it?

An allergen is a substance that can cause an allergic reaction. In some people, the immune system recognizes allergens as foreign or dangerous. As a result, the immune system reacts by making a type of antibody called IgE to defend against the allergen. This reaction leads to allergy symptoms. (SOURCE: Medline https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002229.htm)

People critical of GMOs raise concerns that the modified plant result in increased allergens. While there has been no direct link between GMOs and increased allergies, the possibility of cross-contamination of certain GMO crops not meant for consumption with others destined to be food has arisen.

“In the autumn of 2000, a California woman named Grace Booth went into anaphylactic shock after eating three corn tacos; after ruling out all other food allergies, she became suspicious about the corn in the tortillas. Earlier that year, the consumer group Genetically Engineered Food Alert found that some Taco Bell shells, along with other corn products, contain a pest-repelling protein called Cry9C[2]. Originally from common soil bacteria, Cry9C can specifically destroy insect intestine and was introduced into StarLink GMO corn to kill predatory caterpillars (see this article). The StarLink corn had only been approved for animal feeding, and was never intended for human consumption because of concerns that Cry9C would be difficult to digest and cause an allergic reaction. However, it still entered the human supply due to cross-pollination when the GMO corn was planted too close to unmodified crops, and the tortillas that Grace ate were soon recalled due to contamination from a GMO product.” Nothing to Sneeze at: the allegenicity of GMOs http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/allergies-and-gmos/

What are some examples?

Pollen, Animal dander, eggs, nuts, shellfish, wheat.

How does it look?

Electron microscope images of various pollens.

Show me some video

https://youtu.be/OTz_2AJJh6o

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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