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Unique soybean lines hold
promise for producing allergy-free soybeans
Life Sciences Editor
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
Hymowitz, emeritus professor of plant genetics in
the crop science department at the U. of I., and doctoral
assistant Leina M. Joseph have isolated two Chinese
soybean lines that grow without the primary protein
linked to soy allergies in children and adults.
— Researchers have isolated two Chinese soybean lines that grow
without the primary protein linked to soy allergies in children and
adults. The two lines already are adapted to Illinois-like conditions
and will be given away to breeders seeking to produce new varieties
of allergy-free soybeans without genetic engineering.
Crop scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and
the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s Donald Danforth Plant
Science Center in St. Louis screened more than 16,000 soybean lines
kept in the USDA’s National Soybean Germplasm Collection. The
findings will appear later this year in the journal Crop Sciences.
The two soybean lines (PI 567476 and PI 603570A) contain virtually identical
genetic mutations that do not contain the leading allergy-causing P34
protein, which consists of 379 amino acids, said Theodore Hymowitz,
emeritus professor of plant genetics in the crop
science department at the U. of I.
“We are releasing this information with no patents so that companies
and breeders involved with soybeans can incorporate these two lines
as quickly as possible,” Hymowitz said. Companies in Japan, Canada
and across the United States have been following the research effort,
The research, which was funded primarily by the Illinois-Missouri Biotechnology
Alliance, went through two stages.
First, using a specially developed immunochemistry approach, Hymowitz’s
postdoctoral assistant Leina M. Joseph examined 100 lines of soybeans
per day for nine months from the UI-based collection. Seeds were crushed,
treated and placed on a membrane for screening. A second screening using
stronger antibodies and protein gels was done to confirm the absence
of P34 in the two domestic lines, Joseph said.
After the two lines were isolated, seeds were sent to the Danforth Center
for additional molecular analysis to determine why P34 was absent. Six
identical genetic mutations were found in each, indicating the two lines
may be related, Hymowitz said.
“The lack of the protein was confirmed by more-detailed two-dimensional
protein assays,” said Eliot M. Herman, a lead scientist at Danforth
who probed the seeds with post-doctoral researcher Monica A. Schmidt.
“We then isolated the gene responsible for the lesion, and we
found there was a single significant change in the gene’s sequence
that likely produced a protein which could not be made as a stable product.”
Herman discovered P34 in the early 1990s and in 2003 had successfully
used a gene-silencing technique to create a soybean line in which P34
was “knocked out.” However, because of public resistance
to genetically modified products researchers have been seeking a more
traditional approach. Because the newly identified lines occur naturally,
they can be successfully crossed into other soybean lines “without
any biotechnology-derived component,” the researchers noted.
“Soybeans are slowly but surely increasingly being used in the
foods we eat, and with that we are noticing an increase in the number
of children and adults that have allergies to soybeans,” Hymowitz
Currently, 6 percent to 8 percent of children are allergic to soy-based
products, including infant formulas, while 2 percent of adults have
had allergic reactions, which range from harmless skin reactions and
gastrointestinal irritation to more serious facial swelling, shortness
of breath, difficulty swallowing and fainting.
Avoiding soy products is becoming more difficult because of soy’s
use as fillers and components of many menu items. While people can read
labels before preparing meals at home, avoiding soy at restaurants isn’t
as easy, Hymowitz said.
Companies interested in obtaining the two soybean lines should contact Randall Nelson, USDA Soybean
Curator, 170 National Soybean Research Center, 1101 W. Peabody Drive,
Urbana, IL 61801.