The result of a 10-year effort, researchers at the University of Arizona and University of Illinois successfully developed a low-allergen soybean, which could mean big things for the food industry.

Rachel French

May 6, 2015

3 Min Read
Newly Developed Low-allergen Soybean Could Mean Big Things for Food Industry

The result of a 10-year effort, researchers at the University of Arizona and University of Illinois successfully developed a low-allergen soybean, which could mean big things for the food industry.

The new soybean, developed by scientists Monica Schmidt and Eliot Herman of the University of Arizona and scientist Theodore Hymowitz of the University of Illinois, has significantly reduced levels of three key proteins responsible for both its allergenic and anti-nutritional effects. The work is described in a paper published online in the journal Plant Breeding.

Soybeans are one of the eight foods regulated by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, or FALPA. Soybean is a major ingredient in many infant formulas, processed foods and livestock feed used for agriculture. Soybeans contain several allergenic and anti-nutritional proteins that affect soybean’s use as food and animal feed.

Importantly, the new soybean is not genetically engineered, but was created using conventional breeding methods, according to Herman.

According the INSIDER article, “A Trend to More Natural and Organic Products," by Jay Kaufman, natural, preservative-free, non-GMO, gluten-free and organic are all terms seen with increasing frequency on supermarket shelves. In fact, Kaufman cited research from the Organic Trade Association stating U.S. sales of organic food and beverages grew from US$1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. And the growth still going strong.

Herman and colleagues first removed P34—a key allergen in soybeans—in 2003, when Herman was at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, via genetic engineering. Although the new soybean may have been less likely to cause allergic reactions, testing was impeded by its transgenic production, especially in key applications such as infant formula.

To circumvent the issue, Herman, Schmidt and Hymowitz set out to create a similar soybean using conventional breeding methods. After screening 16,000 different varieties of soybean for the desired trait, they found one that almost completely lacked the allergen P34. The team stacked the P34 null with two varieties previously identified by Hymowitz that lacked soybean agglutinin and trypsin inhibitors, proteins that are responsible for the soybean's anti-nutritional effects in livestock and humans.

"We really believed in this goal and wanted to produce an enhanced soybean that could be used," Herman said. "That became the motivation for using conventional breeding rather than the transgenic approach."

After nearly a decade of crossbreeding each variety to the soybean reference genome called Williams 82, the team has produced a soybean that lacks most of the P34 and trypsin inhibitor protein, and completely lacks soybean agglutinin. Beyond these characteristics, the soybean is nearly identical to Williams 82. They've dubbed the new variety "Triple Null."

"We think this will be embraced by many, whether they prefer conventional breeding or transgenic methods of food production," Schmidt said. "It can be grown organically, with pesticides, and although conventional itself, it could be transformed to add other producer or consumer traits."

In collaboration with scientists at Purdue University, tests are planned to evaluate the efficacy of the low-allergen soybean in swine. The Purdue team has bred a line of swine that develops a strong allergenic response very similar to that of human infants allergic to soybean formula. The swine studies will enable testing of Triple Null and enable new approaches to mitigate soybean allergies in humans.

About the Author(s)

Rachel French

Rachel French joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products Insider, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. French left Informa Markets in 2019, but continues to freelance for both FBI and NPI.

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