It is important to emphasise that a history of consumption of certain protein-containing foods in one region in the world does not automatically imply a proof of a safe history of exposure for the intended use of proteins from the same source in other regions of the world. Novel proteins may particularly pose a risk of allergenicity. Food allergy occurs at a high prevalence and has a significant impact on the quality of life and daily functioning of those who suffer from it, and may even be life threatening. Therefore, allergy risk assessment is increasingly important for the food industry. TNO has developed and implemented, together with UMC Utrecht, a strategy to assess and predict allergy risks early in the development phase of novel or modified food products by using a broadly applicable schematic approach (Verhoeckx, et al. 2016). As a case study, we assessed the allergenicity of mealworm (Tenebrio molitor L.) proteins for use in human food supply. Our approach showed that food containing mealworm proteins poses a risk to crustacean allergic patients. Furthermore, we showed that mealworm proteins have the potency to induce new food allergies and our in silico model correctly predicted 2 novel insect allergens that were not predicted using other in silico methods. This case study emphasises the importance of a thorough allergenicity risk assessment before novel proteins enter onto the market.
Marjolein Meijerink - Medior scientist immunology, TNO
Marjolein has 30 publications in international peer-reviewed journals and presented at several national and international conferences. Her expertise areas are: experiments with probiotic microorganisms in cell culture, immune assays (including flow cytometry), in vitro biological assays, and in vivo experiments in mice. Her research experience is multidisciplinary and combines immunology, microbiology, bacterial genomics, microbiota and more recently host transcriptomics. In her role at TNO Marjolein is responsible for the food protein allergenicity assessment and the development of guidance on how to identify parameters and how to assess and monitor the safety and efficacy of immune health interventions and exposure.