Plants 'hi­jacked' to make po­lio vac­cine


used to in­fect tobacco.

The in­fec­tion took hold, the plants read the ge­netic in­struc­tions and started mak­ing the virus-like par­ti­cles.

In­fected leaves were mixed with wa­ter, blended, and the po­lio vac­cine was ex­tracted.

The virus-like par­ti­cles pre­vented po­lio in an­i­mal ex­per­i­ments, and an analysis of their 3D struc­ture showed they looked al­most iden­ti­cal to po­liovirus.

Prof Ge­orge Lomonos­soff, from the John Innes Cen­tre, told the BBC News web­site: "They are in­cred­i­bly good mim­ics.

"I would hope we get vac­cines pro­duced in plants in the not too dis­tant fu­ture."

The re­search is funded by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, as part of ef­forts to find re­place­ments for the po­lio vac­cine.

Po­lio - which can cause per­ma­nent paral­y­sis - is a thing of the past for most of the world, but the in­fec­tion has not been erad­i­cated.

And us­ing weak­ened po­liovirus in cur­rent vac­cines poses a risk of the virus re­gain­ing some of its dan­ger­ous traits - called vac­cine-de­rived po­liovirus.

Dr An­drew Ma­cadam, prin­ci­pal sci­en­tist at the UK's Na­tional In­sti­tute for Bi­o­log­i­cal Stan­dards and Con­trol, said: "Cur­rent vac­cines for po­lio are pro­duced from large amounts of live virus, which car­ries a threat of ac­ci­den­tal es­cape and re-in­tro­duc­tion.

"This study takes us a step closer to re­plac­ing cur­rent po­lio vac­cines, pro­vid­ing us with a cheap and vi­able op­tion for mak­ing virus-like par­ti­cle­based vac­cines." Great po­ten­tial

But this tech­nol­ogy is not lim­ited to po­lio or even just to vac­cines.

As long as re­searchers have the right se­quence of ge­netic code, they can make a vac­cine against most viruses.

And they have also used plants to make an­ti­bod­ies like those be­ing used in can­cer ther­apy.

Plants are also be­ing in­ves­ti­gated as a new source for the win­ter flu jab.

Cur­rently, it is grown in chicken eggs and takes months to de­velop.

Prof Lomonos­soff told the BBC: "In an ex­per­i­ment with a Cana­dian com­pany, they showed you could ac­tu­ally iden­tify a new strain of virus and pro­duce a can­di­date vac­cine in three to four weeks.

"It has po­ten­tial for mak­ing vac­cines against emerg­ing epi­demics, of course re­cently we had Zika and prior to that we had Ebola.

"It's highly re­spon­sive, and that's one of the great at­trac­tions of the tech­nol­ogy."

The plants have the ad­van­tage of grow­ing quickly and need­ing only sun­light, soil, wa­ter and car­bon diox­ide to grow.

It means it could be a cheap and low-tech so­lu­tion to vac­cine de­vel­op­ment.

But there are still is­sues to re­solve, in­clud­ing mak­ing vac­cine on a large scale.

Another is­sue is whether there is any risk from us­ing plants to make the vac­cine - does the tobacco-rel­a­tive mean there is nico­tine in the vac­cine?

Dr Tarit Mukhopadhyay, a lec­turer in vac­cine de­vel­op­ment at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don, said: "The ini­tial re­sults look im­pres­sive.

"How­ever, there are very few plant-based vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ers and al­most no li­censed hu­man vac­cines that are cur­rently pro­duced in plants."

De­nis Mur­phy, a pro­fes­sor of biotech­nol­ogy at the Univer­sity of South Wales, said: "This is an im­por­tant achieve­ment.

"The chal­lenge is now to op­ti­mise the plant ex­pres­sion sys­tem and to move to­wards clin­i­cal tri­als of the new vac­cine."

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