Working in the Molecular Allergy Research Laboratory (MARL), Andreas collaborates with a team of researchers including PhD student Shay Karnaneedi and Honours student Emily Jerry to investigate insect protein allergens.
One of the big findings from Andreas’s research is that people who are allergic to shellfish might also be allergic to insect proteins.
“We know that insects and crustaceans are very closely related. They have a lot of little legs, you know. You would love to eat a prawn, but you wouldn’t eat a cockroach, even though they are very closely related when it comes to their protein contents,” he says.
“The research conducted by our PhD student Shay Karnaneedi has found so far that there is a potential for people with an existing shellfish allergy to also be allergic to some insects,” Andreas says. “So, if you are allergic to shrimp, mussels, oysters or any other type of shellfish, there is a strong possibility you will also react to any product made from insect proteins or containing a certain amount of it.”
But Andreas says the potential for these allergies is not bad news for cricket cuisine. “This is not necessarily a problem for these food products, but so long as they are labeled that they should not be consumed by people with existing shellfish allergies, which in the world markets is only about five percent of people,” he says.
Working with the CSIRO, Andreas wants to find out whether there are different ways we can reduce the allergens in these insect products for people with shellfish allergies
Some of Andreas’s preliminary research indicates that insects at different stages of growth may have different levels of allergenicity. Crickets, for example, are in adult form, while mealworms are actually the intermediate stage of darkling beetles. “There seems to be a big difference in allergenicity in these insects depending on their stage. There are only preliminary indications of this, but understanding the allergenicity of insects at different stages would also help to identify the best insects that are highly nutritious and easy to grow in large quantities on an industrial scale,” Andreas says.
Andreas’s research has also shown that different ways of preparing insect proteins may also impact their allergenicity. “Some research has shown for other products that if you use high-pressure processing or heating, you can hydrolyze these proteins to smaller peptides — into smaller fragments — and then they often lose allergenicity,” he says.