October 23, 2021

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Researchers are studying the possibility of turning edible plants into ‘factories’ for mRNA vaccines

However, if the American researchers’ project is successful, plant mRNA vaccines can be consumed at home after the plants are grown.

US researchers are studying the possibility of turning edible plants – including, for example, lettuce – into “factories” for mRNA vaccines. The University of California, Riverside (UCR) stated on its website Thursday that such vaccines could enter the human body in the future through the consumption of certain types of plants.

The so-called messenger RNA (mRNA) directs human cells to produce a protein found in a specific virus. The human immune system then detects the presence of a foreign protein and begins producing antibodies – just as if a natural virus infection occurred. Some coronavirus vaccines are also based on mRNA technology.

vaccine in lettuce

One of the challenges with this technology is that vaccines must be kept cool during transportation and storage. But if the American researchers’ project is successful, the plant mRNA vaccines that can be consumed could overcome this challenge – they could be stored at room temperature.

“Ideally, one plant produces enough RNA to pollinate one person,” said Juan Pablo Giraldo of the University of California’s Institute of Botany and Plant Sciences, which is conducting the research in collaboration with scientists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Carnegie Mellon University (CMU.) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Giraldo added that his team is testing this method on spinach and lettuce. Their long-term goal is that “people can grow such modified plants in their own gardens”.

Plants can replace traditional pollination

The American Scientists Project has three main goals. He wants to demonstrate that genetic information contained in mRNA vaccines can be successfully transferred to the part of plant cells where they reproduce. Furthermore, the researchers want to demonstrate that plants can produce enough mRNA to replace conventional pollination. In addition, the researchers also want to determine the correct dosage.

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According to UCR on its website, the key to this method is the chloroplasts — tiny organs in plant cells that convert sunlight into energy the plant can use. “These are small solar-powered plants that produce carbohydrates and other molecules that allow plants to grow,” Giraldo added. According to him, chloroplasts are also an unused source for the production of desired molecules.