Tobacco plants can be turned into living vaccine factories

Tobacco plants can be turned into living vaccine factories

Tobacco use may be responsible for thousands of deaths worldwide every year, but tobacco plants can act as a saviour for public health, scientists say.

Researchers at a US biotechnology startup have claimed they have transformed tobacco plants into living factories for making new vaccines and medical treatments.

They designed “SwiftVax” tobacco plants to act as quick, cheap biological factories for churning out bioengineered proteins needed for human or animal vaccines.

Faster vaccine manufacturing could allow the world to respond rapidly to future outbreaks of infectious diseases — a problem it faced while racing to stockpile vaccine during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

“Thousands of lives and millions of dollars were lost because current technologies for production were not able to provide vaccines fast enough,” said Lucas Arzola, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis.

“The use of tobacco plants as biofactories of vaccines can provide a solution to this problem,” Arzola was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

Arzola’s biotechnology startup, called Inserogen, has already begun lining up bioengineered products made by the SwiftVax tobacco plants.

First, it’s creating a vaccine for the poultry illness called Newcastle disease — an infectious disease capable of rapidly spreading among chickens or other farm birds.

Second, a therapeutic protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) could help human patients suffering from the genetic disorder known as AAT deficiency, because the missing protein typically protects the lungs and liver from damage.

Using the SwiftVax technology, Arzola hopes to make a variety of vaccines and proteins used in medical treatments. “The technology is easy to customise, and can be engineered to produce not only vaccines, but virtually any recombinant protein,” Arzola said.

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