Plant-Based Vaccine Among Front-Runners in Fight Against Polio
A Researcher from Norwich is part of a consortium that has been awarded $1.5 million to develop safer polio vaccines, using a new technique developed at the John Innes Centre. The fight against polio has been one of the great success stories of modern medicine, with the disease already eliminated in much of the world. However, current immunisation programmes use attenuated ‘live’ or ‘killed’ virus vaccines, both of which carry a risk of live virus escaping back into the wild.
Now, Professor George Lomonossoff, of The John Innes Centre, is part of a University of Leeds-led research project “Generation of Virus Free Polio Vaccine”; the project aims to develop ways of constructing vaccines without using the live virus and exploring different methods for their production.
Professor David Rowlands, of the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences, who leads the project together with Professor Nicola Stonehouse, said: “Until now, the problem with this approach to developing a new polio vaccine has been that, though we’ve been able to create these empty virus-like particles (VLPs), they have been significantly less stable than the complete virus and were therefore not suitable for making vaccines. Our research has developed methods of building the genome-free particles for all three types of the virus with the stability we need.”
Professor George Lomonossoff said: “Growing large quantities of VLPs in plants is surprisingly easy and incredibly efficient. You simply introduce bacteria containing the genes for the VLP into the plant, which results in the plant’s cells making many copies of the VLP. The process, from introduction of the bacteria to harvesting the VLPs from the crushed leaves can take just a matter of weeks. The added beauty of this technique is that the risk of contamination with other human viruses using this production technique is significantly lower than some other vaccine production systems.”
Although the principle of using plants rather than yeast and insect-based systems is well established, no major plant-based vaccine has yet been widely introduced.
Nobel LaureateS Support GMOs
Recently, 109 Nobel laureates signed onto a sharply worded letter to Greenpeace urging the environmental group to rethink its longstanding opposition to genetically modified organisms. The open letter was addressed to “Leaders of Greenpeace, the United Nations and Governments around the world. The writers argue that the anti-GMO campaign is scientifically baseless and potentially harmful to poor people in the developing world who suffer from food shortages.
“Genetic modification is something we’ve been doing to crops, to farm animals, as long as one can remember,” says Richard J. Roberts. “This is what we have been eating for all of our lives; we would not be here if these things were not safe.”
The Nobel laureates add their support to the belief that GMOs are safe and will be necessary to feed the exploding world population in the next few decades. GMO opponents argue that not enough testing has been done to determine long term effects and that the benefits of GMO crops aren’t worth the harm to the environment they may cause.
The letter goes on to state: Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.
A new book has been released by scientist Hope Jahren. Jahren shares a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more. Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.
“She communicates the electric excitement of discovering something new — something no one ever knew or definitively proved before — and the boring scientific grunt work involved in conducting studies and experiments: the days and weeks and months of watching and waiting and gathering data, the all-nighters, the repetitions, the detours, both serendipitous and unfruitful,” says New York Time reviewer Michiko Kakutani.
Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.