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Wheat, Meat and Other Allergies

Scientist Discovers Big Clue in Wine Reactions

The Danish study, published in the Journal of Proteome Research, reveals a completely different potential allergy culprit: glycoproteins. Titled “Glycoproteomic Profile in Wine: A ‘Sweet’ Molecular Renaissance”, the study looks at the molecular makeup of wine – a 2008 Italian Chardonnay to be exact – and identifies 28 glycoproteins (proteins that are coated with sugar during the fermentation process).

Ironically, the study’s lead author Giuseppe Palmisano, who grew up helping his Italian winemaker father pick and press grapes, had not intended to study the potentially allergenic components of wine.

But in the process of analyzing the glycoproteins, and looking at what similarities they shared with other foods, he made the stunning discovery that they have a very similar structure to the proteins in known allergens, including latex, ragweed, bananas, tomatoes and kiwi. Palmisano, who is a post-doc in chemistry at the University of Southern Denmark, was so surprised that he checked and re-checked his data many times.

Once he was certain the data were solid, he was both thrilled and somewhat afraid, since the tiny Italian town where he grew up, along with many others like it, are highly dependent on the wine industry.

“I was happy because I was putting new light on the molecular composition of wine, and solving another little piece of the complicated puzzle,” says Palmisano. “I was afraid because I wondered what the economic impact could be. But then I realized that people who haven’t experienced any allergy will not be affected by the discovery; but people who do suffer from an allergy can now target a culprit. So there will be no negative economic impact.”

What Causes Your Alcohol Reactions?

But before people with an allergy to wine start dusting off their corkscrews, Palmisano warns that, while the findings will help scientists to understand the chemical link between glycoproteins and certain allergens, clinical trials are needed to discover whether glycoproteins actually trigger reactions. And even then, he believes it may not be possible to eliminate the glycoproteins from the drink.

“The composition of wine is incredibly complex,” he says. “So you can imagine that whenever you remove something, you can never be that selective.

“If you remove glycoproteins, you will remove other components, which could even be aromatic components – and then you will spoil the wine.”

Others have suggested that genetic modification could in theory be used to rid the wine of the glycoproteins if they are found to be problematic – but Palmisano says that route is fraught with hazards, and that modifying single proteins is extremely difficult, especially for a product such as wine that is mass-produced.

Next: Interventions for the patient vs. the wine

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.