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about allergy

Allergy is an immune system disorder marked by hypersensitivity to normally harmless and everyday substances, such as pollen or latex. Contact with such allergens can cause an immediate and rapid reaction. Allergic reactions range from relatively mild (itchy eyes, runny nose) to life threatening (anaphylaxis).


Allergic reactions are caused by exposure to certain proteins that the body mistakenly marks as dangerous. This hypersensitivity can be inherited or developed. Exposure to certain allergens at a young age can increase the possibility of developing allergies later in life. Interestingly enough, insufficient exposure to bacteria and viruses that stimulate metabolic pathways of the immune system can also increase the likelihood of developing allergic disease.

food allergies

Food allergies are adverse reactions to ingested proteins. These proteins tend to be more heat stable than most proteins and resist being denatured by pepsin, a digestive enzyme. Reactions range from gastrointestinal irritation to anaphylactic shock. If the allergic reaction is against a common protein, such as Lipid Transfer Protein in all plants, an allergy can seriously impact a person's diet and lifestyle. Currently, avoidance and immunotherapy are the most common treatments. Avoidance is simply removal of all foods containing the allergen from the environment of the person with the allergy. Immunotherapy involves ingesting gradually increasing amounts of the allergen until a tolerance for the allergen is built. However, neither of these treatments can compare to living without a serious food allergy. One possible solution is to engineer foods to be free of offending protein. This year, food allergens in plants are of particular interest to the Harvard iGEM team. Our goal is to use biobricks to deliver modular RNA interference against particular allergens into plants in order to produce plants that do not express allergen proteins.