Tobacco Fix

Rather than eggs, which can sometimes be in short supply, researchers have found that tobacco plants can be used to incubate diseases before they are killed and turned into vaccines.

Rather than eggs, which can sometimes be in short supply, researchers have found that tobacco plants can be used to incubate diseases before they are killed and turned into vaccines. "Production of flu vaccine is rooted in old technology. You need fertile chicken eggs, millions of them, for growing the flu virus before you kill it and turn it into vaccine. That's one of the reasons it took so long to prepare a vaccine for the new variant of H1N1 flu that caused a pandemic this year and why health officials have to decide many months in advance what strains of flu virus will be the source of the next season's flu shot. To speed up the process, various companies and research groups have developed/are developing new virus-growing systems that use mammal cells or insect cells. So, hey, why not tobacco plants? A consortium of scientists at Texas A&M and elsewhere launched Project GreenVax to try it -- they say it could create vaccine far more quickly and efficiently than the eggs. A nice article in the Wall Street Journal explains a bit of the technology and also mentions other efforts to manufacture vaccines of various stripes in plants. (The image at the left was taken at the facility of a California company that was using tobacco plants to try to manufacture a cancer vaccine.) According to the Wall Street Journal article, the procedure goes like this: First you insert a flu-virus gene into a bacterium -- the gene in question directs formation of a protein that our immune systems recognize and launch a response to when we get infected by flu."

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