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2021-12-17

Edible Vaccines

The invention of a targeted vaccine is considered one of the greatest pioneering achievements of the 19th century and is inextricably linked to the name of Edward Jenner, who found the vaccine against smallpox. Since then, vaccination has been a global success story, saving the lives of millions of people. Diphtheria, polio, tetanus or measles - many things can be prevented today that still afflicted and killed mainly children in the last century.

However, the next prick could no longer come from the doctor's office, but perhaps from the salad bowl: Researchers at UC Riverside are making vaccines from genetically modified plants, developing edible vaccines from lettuce, rice, bananas, tomatoes, alfalfa, spinach and carrots.

Edible vaccines can become an easily accessible and cost-saving alternative to traditional injections: You can grow the vegetables yourself, then simply harvest them, prepare them, and you're vaccinated. One head of lettuce will vaccinate an adult human against corona, if UC Riverside researchers have their way. The process is made possible by mRNA vaccines that have now been developed. mRNA can also be reproduced by plants.

The idea is not new: as early as the 1990s, U.S. molecular biologist Charles Arntzen referred to all foods, especially plants, that contain vitamins and proteins and nutrients that curb various diseases as "edible vaccines." In the production of edible vaccines, the gene encoding bacterial or viral pathogens can be incorporated into plants without losing their immunogenic properties.

So in the future, anyone who is afraid of needles should be able to protect themselves against deadly diseases without them. Juan Pablo Giraldo, Associate Professor at the Department of Botany and Plant Science at the University of California, Riverside, who heads the research group, wants to use his research project to prove that the DNA sequences containing the mRNA vaccines can be delivered precisely to the part of the plant cell that reproduces them. The mRNA content would then be just as high as that of a vaccine dose.

It's quite possible that our vaccines will grow in our home gardens in the future, but it could be a while before that happens. Giraldo notes, "To prove the success of the idea and the technology, the research will take a few more years. If successful, it will take more studies and several years before leafy greens can be used as mRNA vaccine factories."