"deleting" allergens from plants
Allergies to fruits and vegetables are widespread, affecting millions of people around the world with symptoms ranging from mild itchiness to life-threatening anaphylaxis. Allergy is caused by an inappropriate immune response to harmless proteins present in the environment. Several common food allergens are structurally similar to pollens that cause seasonal allergies and are present in a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Many allergen proteins have been knocked down in plants using RNA interference, leading to plants with reduced allergenicity. As part of our iGarden project we are designing modular BioBrick intron-containing self-complementary hairpin forming RNA (ihpRNA) and artificial microRNA (amiRNA) constructs for the targeted knockdown of proteins with homology to allergens in Arabidopsis, as well as designing ihpRNA and miRNA constructs against allergens in a range of other plants common in home gardens, including strawberry, lettuce, carrots, celery, tomato, and several herbs. Our goal is to use genetic engineering to make food safer, and to specially tailor gardens to the needs of each person with a different set of allergies.