U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Document Type


Date of this Version



TOXICOLOGICAL SCIENCES 110(1), 31–39 (2009); doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfp075


Food allergy is a potential risk associated with use of transgenic proteins in crops. Currently, safety assessment involves consideration of the source of the introduced protein, in silico amino acid sequence homology comparisons to known allergens, physicochemical properties, protein abundance in the crop, and, when appropriate, specific immunoglobulin E binding studies. Recently conducted research presented at an International Life Sciences Institute/Health and Environmental Sciences Institute–hosted workshop adds to the scientific foundation for safety assessment of transgenic proteins in five areas: structure/activity, serum screening, animal models, quantitative proteomics, and basic mechanisms. A web-based tool is now available that integrates a database of allergenic proteins with a variety of computational tools which could be used to improve our ability to predict allergenicity based on structural analysis. A comprehensive strategy and model protocols have been developed for conducting meaningful serum screening, an extremely challenging process. Several animal models using oral sensitization with adjuvant and one dermal sensitization model have been developed and appear to distinguish allergenic from nonallergenic food extracts. Data presented using a mouse model suggest that pepsin resistance is indicative of allergenicity. Certain questions remain to be addressed before considering animal model validation. Gel-free mass spectrometry is a viable alternative to more labor-intensive approaches to quantitative proteomics. Proteomic data presented on four nontransgenic varieties of soy suggested that if known allergen expression in genetically modified crops falls within the range of natural variability among commercial varieties, there appears to be no need to test further. Finally, basic research continues to elucidate the etiology of food allergy.