Date of this Version
Published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 50 (2006), pp. 655–660; doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200500277
A bioinformatics comparison of proteins introduced into food crops through genetic engineering provides a mechanism to identify those proteins that may present an increased risk of allergic reactions for individuals with existing allergies. The goal is to identify proteins that are known to be allergens or are so similar to an allergen that they may induce allergic cross-reactions. Three comparative approaches have traditionally been used, or considered for safety evaluations. One identifies any short (6–8) amino acid segment of the protein that exactly matches a known allergen sequence. The second is an overall primary sequence comparison using Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) or FASTA to find matches of greater than 35% identity over 80 amino acids. The third is based on 3-D prediction programs to identify 3-D similarities that might predict potential cross-reactivity. The utility of each of these approaches was debated in the bioinformatics workshop. The consensus agreement from the expert workshop participants was that the short-segment match (e.g., 6–8 amino acids) provides an unacceptably high rate of false positive matches and an uncertain rate of true positive matches, and was not particularly useful for an allergenicity evaluation performed in the context of comprehensive safety evaluation. There was no consensus regarding the most appropriate bioinformatics method, an acceptable scoring criteria for triggering closer examination subsequent to a positive match, or an acceptable scoring mechanism for ranking the utility of the various 3-D approaches that were discussed during the workshop. However, the general consensus was that the most practical approach at this time is to evaluate primary sequence identities to known allergens using either FASTA or BLAST. While there was good agreement that identities of greater than 35% over 80 or more amino acids (recommended by Codex in 2003) is quite conservative, the conclusion was that additional data or studies would be needed to justify changing this criterion as there is some evidence that some individuals sensitized to proteins in evolutionarily conserved protein families may experience cross-reactions to proteins sharing approximately 40% identity.