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Vaccines On Your Plate

Japanese scientists have created a vaccine for cholera that can be well, eaten.

Immunologist Hiroshi Kiyono of the University of Tokyo and his colleagues inserted the genetic material from the microbe responsible for producing cholera toxin, into a rice plant, whose genome has recently been mapped. The plants produced the toxin and when the rice grains were fed to mice they provoked immunity from the diarrhea-causing bacterium.

The bacteria that cause cholera infect the gut and causes bloody stools. Nearly 200,000 cases of cholera occur each year in Africa, India and Russia, among other places.

The causal organism- Vibrio cholerae, travels from host to host in water as well as on washed food. Here, it can persist for almost a week.

Vaccines do exist, yet they are short-lived protection, as some require refrigeration from when they are brewed in an industrial vat to the moment they are injected into a patient. Now, the researchers say this strain of rice acting as a vaccine, can last for more than a year and a half at room temperature.

The benefits of such a vaccine have far-reaching effects. It could be used for large-scale and cost-efficient immunization programs.

Developing countries, many of which have rice as a staple food, are likely to benefit most.

Says Kiyono: "We are considering rice as a new vaccine production and storage system, and natural vaccine delivery vehicle.

The vaccine expressed in rice, or rice-based vaccine, will become a new form of vaccine production and delivery to [the] digestive tract for the initiation of antigen-specific mucosal and systemic immune responses", he adds.

It is widely recognized that an effective mucosal vaccine would probably offer the best protection against infections such as cholera, Escherichia coli, HIV, influenza and SARS.

One of the big hurdles in the way of developing easy to administer edible vaccines
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