Occupational Asthma Reference

Budnik LT, Scheer E, Burge PS, Baur X, Sensitising effects of genetically modified enzymes used in flavour, fragrance, detergence and pharmaceutical production: cross-sectional study, Occup Environ Med, 2017;74:39-45,10.1136/oemed-2015-103442

Keywords: enzyme, IgE, fragrance, baking, food, amylase, stainzyme, pancreatinin, papain, ovozyme, phytase, trypsin, glucanase, lipase, genetic engineering,

Known Authors

Sherwood Burge, Oasys Sherwood Burge

Xaver Baur, Institute of occupational medicine, Hamburg Xaver Baur

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The use of genetically engineered enzymes in the synthesis of flavourings, fragrances and other applications has increased tremendously. There is, however, a paucity of data on sensitisation and/or allergy to the finished products. We aimed to review the use of genetically modified enzymes and the enormous challenges in human biomonitoring studies with suitable assays of specific IgE to a variety of modified enzyme proteins in occupational settings and measure specific IgE to modified enzymes in exposed workers.

Specific IgE antibodies against workplace specific individual enzymes were measured by the specific fluorescence enzyme-labelled immunoassay in 813 exposed workers seen in cross-sectional surveys.

Twenty-three per cent of all exposed workers showed type I sensitisation with IgE antibodies directed against respective workplace-specific enzymes. The highest sensitisation frequencies observed were for workers exposed enzymes derived from a-amylase (44%), followed by stainzyme (41%), pancreatinin (35%), savinase (31%), papain (31%), ovozyme (28%), phytase (16%), trypsin (15%) and lipase (4%). The highest individual antibody levels (up to 110 kU/L) were detected in workers exposed to phytase, xylanase and glucanase. In a subgroup comprising 134 workers, detailed clinical diagnostics confirmed work-related symptoms. There was a strong correlation (r=0.75, p<0.0001) between the symptoms and antibody levels. Workers with work-related respiratory symptoms showed a higher prevalence for the presence of specific IgE antibodies against workplace-specific enzymes than asymptomatic exposed workers (likelihood ratio 2.32, sensitivity 0.92, specificity 0.6).

Our data confirm the previous findings showing that genetically engineered enzymes are potent allergens eliciting immediate-type sensitisation. Owing to lack of commercial diagnostic tests, few of those exposed receive regular surveillance including biomonitoring with relevant specific IgE assays.

Full Text


Genetically modified enzymes are now present in a wide range of industries and cause sensitisation which often shows little cross-reactivity with the native enzyme, so can be missed unless the genetically modified enzyme is used to testing. Food, beverage, detergent, perfume, pharmaceutical, textile and chemical industries are increasingly using enzymes in biotechnological processes for the synthesis of volatile and non-volatile chemical compounds contributing, among others, to the fragrance, taste and ?avour of products.

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