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Effective, safe anthrax vaccine can be grown in tobacco plants

Enough anthrax vaccine to inoculate everyone in the United States could be grown inexpensively and safely with only one acre of tobacco plants, a University of Central Florida molecular biologist has found.

Mice immunized with a vaccine produced in UCF professor Henry Daniell's laboratory through the genetic engineering of tobacco plants survived lethal doses of anthrax administered later by National Institutes of Health researchers. The results of the NIH-funded study are featured in the December issue of the Infection & Immunity journal.

Daniell's research is a breakthrough in efforts to find a safe and effective method of producing large quantities of vaccine for anthrax, one of the top bioterrorism threats facing the United States. The new production method also could help the government and health care providers avoid supply shortages, as one acre of plants can produce 360 million doses in a year.

"Anthrax vaccine is very much in need, primarily because of bioterrorism concerns," Daniell said. "But in the United States, only one company has the capacity to produce the vaccine, and it is made in very small quantities by fermentation. We can provide enough doses of a safe and effective vaccine for all Americans from just one acre of tobacco plants."

Current production of the vaccine involves an expensive fermentation process that can cause harmful side effects such as inflammation, flu-like symptoms and rashes. This has prompted some people to refuse to be vaccinated.

Seeking a safer and more effective alternative, Daniell and his colleagues injected the vaccine gene into the chloroplast genome of tobacco cells, partly because those plants grow much faster than carrots, tomatoes and coffee. They grew the cells for several weeks in Daniell's laboratory. Tests showed the vaccine taken from the plants was just as potent as the one produced through fermentation but lacks the bacterial toxin that can cause harmful side effect
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Source:University of Central Florida


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