Researchers at the University of California-Riverside are developing an edible plant with the same medicine as an mRNA vaccination. The Covid-19 vaccine employs messenger RNA (mRNA) technology to combat viruses. They operate by instructing immune system cells to detect and combat a specific infectious illness. Unfortunately, mRNA vaccines must be kept cold until they are used. Otherwise, they may lose their stability. If the UC-Riverside research succeeds, the public will be able to consume plant-based mRNA vaccinations that can persist at room temperature.
According to WFLA, researchers now hope to achieve three objectives after receiving a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The researchers will first attempt to transfer DNA carrying mRNA vaccines into plant cells to multiply. Then the study’s authors hope to demonstrate that plants can generate enough mRNA to replace a conventional injection. Finally, the team must establish the appropriate dosage for individuals to consume to effectively replace immunizations.
In a statement released by UC Riverside’s Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, associate professor Juan Pablo Giraldo said, “Ideally, a single plant would produce enough mRNA to vaccinate a single person.” He continued, “We are testing this approach with spinach and lettuce and have long-term goals of people growing it in their own gardens. Farmers could also eventually grow entire fields of it.”
According to Giraldo and scientists from UC-San Diego and Carnegie Mellon University, chloroplasts are the key to producing edible vaccinations. Giraldo describes chloroplasts as “tiny, solar-powered factories that produce sugar and other molecules which allow the plant to grow. They’re also an untapped source for making desirable molecules.” They are organs found inside plant cells that aid in the conversion of sunlight into energy. The scientists say that previous research demonstrated that chloroplasts could express genes not found naturally in the plant. They have achieved this by injecting genetic material into plant cells while enclosing it in a protective shell.
UC-San Diego Professor Nicole Steinmetz said, “our idea is to repurpose naturally occurring nanoparticles, namely plant viruses, for gene delivery to plants. Some engineering goes into this to make the nanoparticles go to the chloroplasts and also to render them non-infectious toward the plants.” She also stated, “one of the reasons I started working in nanotechnology was so I could apply it to plants and create new technology solutions. Not just for food, but for high-value products as well, like pharmaceuticals.”