A new soybean with significantly reduced levels of three key proteins responsible for both its allergenic and anti-nutritional effects has been created. Soybean is a major ingredient in many infant formulas, processed foods and livestock feed used for agriculture.

Conventional soybeans contain several allergenic and anti-nutritional proteins that affect soybean use as food and animal feed and in the U.S. alone, nearly 15 million people and 1 in 13 children suffer from food allergy. In California, parents who think exposing children to measles, mumps and rubella should be in the Constitution would picket schools if they served a food that may cause an allergic reaction and soybeans are one of the eight foods regulated by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, or FALPA.   

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Eliot Herman and colleagues targeted P34 as the soybean's key allergen, and genetically engineered it out of the crop. Although the new soybean may have been less likely to cause allergic reactions, testing was impeded by government restrictions.

To circumvent the issue, Herman, now a professor in the University of Arizona School of Plant Sciences, and colleagues set out to create a similar soybean using conventional breeding methods that do not fall under the legal definition of a GMO. After screening 16,000 different varieties of soybean for the desired trait, they found one that almost completely lacked the allergen P34. The team stacked the P34 null with two varieties that lacked soybean agglutinin and trypsin inhibitors, proteins that are responsible for the soybean's anti-nutritional effects in livestock and humans. 

"We really believed in this goal and wanted to produce an enhanced soybean that could be used," Herman said. "That became the motivation for using conventional breeding rather than the transgenic approach."

After nearly a decade of crossbreeding each variety to the soybean reference genome called Williams 82, the team has produced a soybean that lacks most of the P34 and trypsin inhibitor protein, and completely lacks soybean agglutinin. Beyond these characteristics, the soybean is nearly identical to Williams 82. They've dubbed the new variety "Triple Null."

Because it is not a GMO, it can be grown organically, like is done with mutagenesis-derived plants and other legacy genetically modified foods, or transgenic methods could add other producer or consumer traits.

First up will be tests to evaluate the efficacy of the low-allergen soybean in swine.