The New York Times Magazine spotlights N.C. A&T's peanut research

01/03/2017 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

The New York Times Magazine, one of journalism’s most influential publications, shone a spotlight over the holidays on North Carolina A&T State University’s groundbreaking research on allergen-reduced peanuts – science that could benefit millions around the country.

The Times focused on the work in its late December feature, “Is It Possible To Make A Less-Allergenic Peanut?” It not only discussed the foundational research done at N.C. A&T, but the transfer of the resulting intellectual property to a Greensboro, N.C., based food-technology startup, Alrgn Bio, that is developing specially treated peanuts for a marketplace in growing need of that solution.

The number of children living with peanut allergies in this country nearly tripled between 1997 and 2008. The 3 million people with peanut allergies in the United States continues to grow, with life-and-death consequences for its most sensitive sufferers.

For them, the N.C. A&T research represents a lifeline toward a future where coming into contact with the country’s most popular legume might no longer be deadly. 

“The peanut-cleansing method used by Alrgn Bio evolved from experiments dating back to 2005, when biochemists at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro started mixing peanut extracts with trypsin, an enzyme found in the human intestine, to see whether the enzyme could break down the proteins” that scientists had discovered were causing allergies, the magazine reported.

“The university researchers later turned to Alcalase, an enzyme that can break down an even broader range of proteins and that is used in some foods like marinades. (It’s also found in laundry detergent, where it chews up stains from protein-rich foods like eggs and gravy.) The Alcalase-treatment process now yields peanuts that look similar to those sold at the supermarket, aside from being a slightly darker shade.”

The research emanated from the labs of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, which has a rich history of innovation and application of cutting-edge technology. Related work continues today through the college’s Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other leading food research entities.

As the college’s reputation and impact continues to grow, so does its enrollment, which has expanded by more than 75 percent since 1990. Students not only receive a world-class education but commonly have the opportunity to participate in research projects in a broad and growing range of areas, from food microbiology to biosystems engineering to natural resources management.

Read the Times’ peanut story in its entirety here.