Good news for all those who live in Japan and suffer from pollen allergies. Scientists have genetically modified rice in an attempt to desensitize the body to that nasty Japanese cedar pollen that causes all of the sneezing, mask-wearing and eye-watering every spring.
While surgical masks are used year-round in Japan, there is a significant increase in masked citizens every year from February to April when the Japanese cedar trees are scattering their pollen throughout the country. It’s believed that about one-third of Japanese citizens experience allergic reactions to the pollen, giving the government cause to deem it a national problem.
Scientists at Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo have singled out the agent in the pollen that causes our immune systems to attack the normally harmless substance. The idea is that if you start intaking the agent a little bit at a time, your body will stop seeing it as the enemy and thus, not react, even when exposed to the substance in higher quantities. It’s a technique called allergy immunotherapy. Usually this desensitization process is done through shots or pills (or by eating lots of strawberries), but because so much of the Japanese population is effected by hay fever and everyone eats rice, scientists thought of a more user-friendly method of medicating: modifying rice to include small amounts of the allergen.
The gene recombination center of the Satake Corporation, which handles agriculture products such as rice and grains, is calling the modified rice “Allergy Relief Rice.” The rice was tested in early 2014 in a small study of 30 people. Those who ate the rice every day showed only a slight increase in immune response or symptoms in the spring, even when the pollen was in full bloom. The control group, however, saw as much as four times more immune cells in their blood during allergy season and also experienced the usual symptoms associated with hay fever.
Researchers at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) are doing further research to make the “Allergy Relief Rice” even more effective. They are also concerned with keeping the regular rice and modified rice separate, as there are strict rules and regulations about rice, but that’s a story for another day.
Of course, there is still a lot of research to be done, but we could be looking at a hay-fever-free society in the coming years. And to think that it could all be done just by eating rice every day, something most Japanese people are happy to do anyway.
Source: Asahi Shimbun
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