Peanuts are the most common food allergy.
The nuts are one of the most common causes of food allergy, with a estimated quarter of a million people in Britain suffering from peanut allergy. Contact with even a tiny amount of peanut can provoke a reaction.
These can be extremely dangerous and even prove fatal, although milder reactions can also cause stomach upsets, vomiting or rash.
Sufferers face a lifetime having to cut out foods and avoid others which could have come in contact with peanuts.
The nuts contain a number of different proteins which are thought to trigger an allergic reaction.
These are not eradicated by cooking. In fact, roasting peanuts can increase the chances of a suffering a severe reaction.
Scientists have already identified the three proteins within the nut which they believe cause the majority of problems.
For the latest work researchers searched 900 different varieties of peanut, looking for naturally occurring mutations which left them with lower than expected levels of the dangerous proteins.
Using conventional crossbreeding techniques, the team then managed to create a peanut with significantly reduced levels of the allergy-causing proteins.
This “low risk” peanut could be mass farmed to bring hope to millions, they believe.
“For those who suffer badly it can be like living in fear of a poisonous snake bite,” said Soheila Maleki, from the American Department of Agriculture’s Food Allergy Research Group in New Orleans, who led the research.
“They have to avoid foods and you hear stories of children being bullied in the playground, with classmates running after them with a peanut butter sandwich.
“At the moment we are continuing to screen different varieties to see if we can create the peanut with the least risk of triggering an allergic reaction.
“Then we would hope that this could be farmed.”
The nuts contain too many triggers to ever breed a fully “allergy free” peanut, she said.
“However, a low risk peanut could cut the number of people who develop a peanut allergy in the first place, and reduce the severity of the reactions in those who do.”
The research team also believes that the new, safer peanut could also be used to help desensitise sufferers.
The findings were presented at the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology conference in London.
In a separate study also presented at the conference researchers found that eating fish of living on or near a farm could protect unborn babies and infants from allergies in later life.
The team, from Gothenburg and Munich universities, found that the immune system was shaped by the early years, and a farm environment or eating fish could help develop a tolerance to proteins that cause allergies including wheezing, hay fever and eczema.
A spokesman for Asthma UK said: “Despite the fact that food allergies trigger asthma symptoms in one in five people with the condition, anaphylactic reactions due to peanut allergy are far more common and life-threatening than asthma attacks due to this type of allergy.
However, we welcome any new approach that can help reduce the number of hospital admissions for asthma triggered by allergic reactions to foods and look forward to hearing more about this avenue of research.”