"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 said.
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.