Medicago is growing a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate in a relative of the tobacco plant right now.
- Canadian biotech company Medicago is growing a vaccine candidate in Nicotiana benthamiana.
- An Australian relative to tobacco, plant-based vaccines could be cheaper and more reliable than current methods.
- Medicago just completed phase 3 clinical trials of an influenza vaccine, which could be a game-changer for vaccine production.
Credit: alphaspirit / Adobe Stock<p>Clark <a href="https://www.medicago.com/en/newsroom/medicago-begins-phase-i-clinical-trials-for-its-covid-19-vaccine-candidate/" target="_blank">says</a> it's important to attack the novel coronavirus from all sides.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Creating a sufficient supply of COVID-19 vaccines within the next year is a challenge which will require multiple approaches, with different technologies. Our proven plant-based technology is capable of contributing to the collective solution to this public health emergency."</p><p>Unlike many common vaccines, VLP vaccines contain no genetic material. You won't get infected by it, which is always a risk in live vaccines. </p><p>This SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is not the only project on Medicago's hands. The company <a href="https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03301051" target="_blank">just completed</a> phase 3 clinical trials on an influenza. While no plant-based vaccine has been approved for use, the company hopes to replace the more cumbersome and expensive egg-based model, or at least offset some of the costs of that model. The plant model could help researchers adapt more quickly to the ever-changing influenza strains each season. </p><p>Plants offer a wonderful alternative to the current vaccination model. Besides price, VLP vaccines scale much easier and faster. If the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine works, Medicago <a href="https://www.medicago.com/en/newsroom/medicago-begins-phase-i-clinical-trials-for-its-covid-19-vaccine-candidate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">believes</a> they can produce a billion doses a year, by far the most ambitious yield to date. At a time when speed, cost, and reliability are all essential factors in vaccine development, we should put tobacco to better use: healing instead of harming. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
This week, Big Think is partnering with Freethink to bring you amazing stories of the people and technologies that are shaping our future.
- What if vegetative patients are conscious? Neuroscientist Adrian Owen, author of Into The Gray Zone and a professor at Western University in Canada, is using fMRI technology to try to reach the people who may still be aware of their surroundings.
- Consciousness has traditionally been assessed by asking patients to respond to verbal commands. Through brain imaging, Dr Owen and his team were able to prove that these tests are inadequate, and it's estimated that 20 percent of vegetative patients are conscious but are physically incapable of communicating it.
- "Communication is the thing that really makes us human," says Dr. Owen. "If we can give these patients back the ability to make decisions, I think we can give them back a little piece of their humanity."
We owe a lot to vaccines and the scientists that develop them. But we've only just touched the surface of what vaccines can do.
- "Vaccines are the best thing science has ever given us," says Larry Brilliant, founding president and acting chairman of Skoll Global Threats. From smallpox, to Ebola, to polio, scientists have successful fought viruses and saved millions of lives. So what's next?
- As Covaxx (formerly United Neuroscience) cofounder Lou Reese explains in this video, the issue with vaccines is that they don't work against "non-external threats." This is a problem, especially now when internal threats (things that cause cancers, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses) are killing people more than external threats like viruses.
- The future of vaccine tech, which scientists are already working toward today, is developing safe vaccines to eradicate these destructive internal agents without harming our bodies in the process.
German researchers have just solved the mystery of how these substances work.
- As pathogens' resistance grows, scientists are searching for a class of drugs that could replace antibiotics.
- Antivitamins that switch off vitamins in bacteria are being investigated.
- Scientists have been struggling to understand how naturally occurring antivitamins do what they do.
Shutting down the dance of the proteins<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU3Nzk5OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMDk4NzI5NX0.FPVenf2jQ4I4raQqn5EpK_DxCGoYRSw3wzIzryl2ys0/img.jpg?width=980" id="27eb8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6cfa008038077a6fbcab3f53d2af6cf8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Vitamin B1" />
Image source: Ekaterina_Minaeva/Shutterstock<p>The study was led by <a href="https://www.uni-goettingen.de/en/89703.html" target="_blank">Dr. Kai Tittmann's</a> group from the Göttingen Center for Molecular Biosciences at the University of Göttingen in collaboration with <a href="https://www3.mpibpc.mpg.de/groups/de_groot/bgroot.html" target="_blank">Bert De Groot's Computational Biomolecular Dynamics Group</a> from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry Göttingen, and with <a href="https://www.chem.tamu.edu/rgroup/begley/" target="_blank">Tadhg Begley's group</a> from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.</p><p>The B1 antivitamin is naturally occurring, and is produced by bacteria as a means of killing off competing bacteria. Its critical atom appears in an apparently unimportant location, deepening the mystery.</p><p>To see how that single atom was doing such an effective job, the researchers used <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/97/7/3171" target="_blank">high-resolution protein crystallography</a>. This allowed them to observe the interaction between the B1 antivitamin and B1 on an atomic level.<br></p><p>What they saw was that the antivitamin completely interrupted the "dance of protons" that's seen in functioning proteins. Tittmann <a href="https://www.uni-goettingen.de/en/3240.html?id=5964" target="_blank">says</a>, "Just one extra atom in the antivitamin acts like a grain of sand in a complex gear system by blocking its finely tuned mechanics." (Tittmann's group was the first to document this "dance" in <a href="https://www.technologynetworks.com/proteomics/news/dance-of-the-protons-discovery-shows-proteins-instant-message-324139" target="_blank">2019</a>.)</p>
Antivitamins don’t bother humans<p>One particularly significant finding of the new research is that, although the B1 antivitamin prevents B1 from functioning in bacteria, it doesn't interfere with the vitamin for humans. This offers hope that antivitamins can be developed that target and neutralize pathogens without doing harm to patients.</p><p>De Groot's team created computer simulations to learn why humans are unaffected by the errant atom, and found that, "The human proteins either do not bind to the antivitamin at all or in such a way that they are not 'poisoned.'"</p><p>The possibility that antivitamins may at some point be ready to step in and replace failing antibiotics is not totally unexpected. Antivitamins were <a href="https://chemistry-europe.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/cbic.201500072" target="_blank">actually used</a> in the development of antibiotic and <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/antiproliferative-drug" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">antiproliferative</a> drugs such as prontosil and aminopterin. And there are already some antivitamin medicines in use, notably antagonists for vitamins B12, B9, and K.</p>
One reason to suspect you have COVID-19 may be the order in which the symptoms appear.
- USC researchers identify a distinct order in which COVID-19 symptoms present themselves.
- SARS-CoV-2 affects the digestive tract in a way that distinguishes it from other similar infections.
- If you experience these symptoms in this order, call your doctor.
The symptoms in order<p>The USC team says that coronavirus' symptoms present in this order:</p><ol><li>fever</li><li>cough and muscle pain</li><li>nausea and/or vomiting</li><li>diarrhea</li></ol><p>What really sets apart COVID-19 from other diseases is the timing of the nausea/vomiting and diarrhea. While the respiratory symptoms are similar to those associated with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the gastrointestinal sequence of COVID-19 is distinctive. COVID-19 attacks the upper GI tract first, causing nausea/vomiting before moving down to the lower GI tract, producing diarrhea. This is the opposite of the way in which these symptoms appear with MERS and SARS.</p><p>"This order is especially important to know when we have overlapping cycles of illnesses like the flu that coincide with infections of COVID-19, says study co-author Peter Kuhn. "Doctors can determine what steps to take to care for the patient, and they may prevent the patient's condition from worsening."</p><p>The study calls for further investigation into the presenting symptoms of COVID-19, since unanswered questions remain. Might the order of symptoms vary with outlier strains of SARS-CoV-2? Do other risk factors such as obesity, or environmental factors such as temperature affect their order?</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU3MzgyOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzU4MTYzOH0.OB7tF_mF_grw-81Mq1ETBzOP6UWJMtpqwm30MjDf-c8/img.jpg?width=980" id="af33e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c94a7be3f9f5659b1de411db2429bea" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="man grimacing from illness" />
Image source: fizkes/Shutterstock