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Molecular Farming: Production of Vaccines in Plants

BY: Dilruba Peya | Category: Agriculture | Submitted: 2013-03-20 05:09:07
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Article Summary: "Molecular farming is the latest technology that utilizes plants to produce large amounts of pharmaceutical materials such as antibodies and vaccines. It depends on the same process used to produce GM crops the artificial beginning of genes into plants..."


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Molecular farming is the latest technology that utilizes plants to produce large amounts of pharmaceutical materials such as antibodies and vaccines. It depends on the same process used to produce GM crops the artificial beginning of genes into plants.

Many antibodies, vaccines and other therapeutic materials made in plants, for example, tobacco, maize, carrot and potato are already commercially available in marketplace or in advanced scientific trials. Producing pharmaceuticals in the plants is efficient and easy compared to traditional production methods. Typically, microbial or animal cell cultures are applied to create vaccines but costs associated with safety, maintenance, storage and transport, are 80% higher contrast with plant-derived vaccines.

The tools used to produce plant-made pharmaceuticals are similar to that used in genetically modified crop production. The genetic information required to create the therapeutic substance is kept on a DNA molecule. Throughout a process called transformation, these DNA molecules are introduced into plant where it becomes element of the plant genome. Genetic information carried on the integrated DNA molecule is understood by the plant protein-making mechanism and used to manufacture the pharmaceutical in company with other plant proteins. During this way the plant works somewhat as a bioreactor, making large amounts of pharmaceutically active materials.

The newest landmark in the growth of pharmaceutical-producing plants observes a tomato-derived vaccine against hepatitis C and cholera. Scientists from the Universidad Cat¤îlica in Chile have joined genetic sequences of the two pathogens and set up them into plants. Tomato plants then make key proteins of the both pathogens. These are the similar key proteins found in traditionally created vaccines applying cell cultures from microbes or animals. One of the benefits of the vaccine resulting from tomato is that it is simply stored in seed of the tomatoes it selves.

So does it mean that in future we can take our vaccines with our greens? It was the method molecular farming, or sometimes known as 'pharming', was imagined when the first researches were published about two decades ago. However, the pharmaceutical substances are taken out from the plant, further processed and then traditionally administered, for instance through a capsule, thus ensuring the same dose and reproducible results.

Making vaccines in plants still has a disadvantage because of the related contamination threat for the food crop production. For example, if a vaccine were taken inadvertently, it could cause desensitization so that immunizations would ultimately cease to work. There has also the threat that the pharma flora can be eaten by animals or birds, or that the active materials can enter the groundwater and cause harmful effects. The first public event highlighting the bio safety problems that surround molecular farming occurred in the USA in 2002. A soya field was discovered to be polluted with transgenic maize producing pharmaceutically-active material trypsin causing the complete yield of 13,000 tons of the soya beans to be destroyed. For this reason, research is moving to non-food crops such as tobacco.

Tobacco was used for improvement of an HIV-neutralizing antibody to avoid virus transmission throughout intercourse. The antibody derived from plant, made into a thick gel, can be used to the vagina to protect from HIV transmission whilst not influencing fertility and was marked for experimental trials in 2009. It is a result of an EU-funded project known as PharmaPlant including more than 40 study groups within the European countries.

However, one of the project's key objectives was to deal with health inequality in the developing countries. It is found from the research that the main burden of illness is in developing countries where access to various vaccines is incredibly poor. It is imagined that pharmaceutical-producing flora will be developed and processed where they are required and thereby assist access to otherwise unaffordable medical treatments in developing nations.

As with any latest method, molecular farming had its teething problems and still has. The risks of food crop contamination and cross-pollination have to be addressed, for instance by applying non-food plants or moss and plant cell cultures which can be grown securely in an enclosed environment. Cost-effectiveness is a vital consideration for molecular farming; yet this new method of producing pharmaceuticals may develop the world's react to pandemics of ever-changing viruses as well. Furthermore, it has the possibility to contribute to improving the global health equality.

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