Grow and eat your own vaccines?

The future of vaccines may look more like eating a salad than getting a shot in the arm. UC Riverside scientists are studying whether they can turn edible plants like lettuce into mRNA vaccine factories.

Grant enables study of plants as mRNA factories

Messenger RNA or mRNA technology, used in COVID-19 vaccines, works by teaching our cells to recognize and protect us against infectious diseases. 

One of the challenges with this new technology is that it must be kept cold to maintain stability during transport and storage. If this new project is successful, plant-based mRNA vaccines — which can be eaten — could overcome this challenge with the ability to be stored at room temperature. 

The project’s goals, made possible by a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, are threefold: showing that DNA containing the mRNA vaccines can be successfully delivered into the part of plant cells where it will replicate, demonstrating the plants can produce enough mRNA to rival a traditional shot, and finally, determining the right dosage. 

“Ideally, a single plant would produce enough mRNA to vaccinate a single person,” said Juan Pablo Giraldo, an associate professor in UCR’s Department of Botany and Plant Sciences who is leading the research, done in collaboration with scientists from UC San Diego and Carnegie Mellon University. 

“We are testing this approach with spinach and lettuce and have long-term goals of people growing it in their own gardens,” Giraldo said. “Farmers could also eventually grow entire fields of it.”


Chloroplasts (magenta color) in leaves expressing a green fluorescent protein. The DNA encoding for the protein was delivered by targeted nanomaterials without mechanical aid by applying a droplet of the nano-formulation to the leaf surface. (Israel Santana/UCR)

Key to making this work are chloroplasts — small organs in plant cells that convert sunlight into energy the plant can use. “They’re tiny, solar-powered factories that produce sugar and other molecules which allow the plant to grow,” Giraldo said. “They’re also an untapped source for making desirable molecules.”

In the past, Giraldo has shown that it is possible for chloroplasts to express genes that aren’t naturally part of the plant. He and his colleagues did this by sending foreign genetic material into plant cells inside a protective casing. Determining the optimal properties of these casings for delivery into plant cells is a specialty of Giraldo’s laboratory. 

For this project Giraldo teamed up with Nicole Steinmetz, a UC San Diego professor of nanoengineering, to utilize nanotechnologies engineered by her team that will deliver genetic material to the chloroplasts. 

“Our idea is to repurpose naturally occurring nanoparticles, namely plant viruses, for gene delivery to plants,” Steinmetz said. “Some engineering goes into this to make the nanoparticles go to the chloroplasts and also to render them non-infectious toward the plants.”

Plant viruses provide naturally occurring nanoparticles that are being repurposed for gene delivery into plant cells. (Nicole Steinmetz/UCSD)

For Giraldo, the chance to develop this idea with mRNA is the culmination of a dream. “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,” Giraldo said. 

Giraldo is also co-leading a related project using nanomaterials to deliver nitrogen, a fertilizer, directly to chloroplasts, where plants need it most. 

Nitrogen is limited in the environment, but plants need it to grow. Most farmers apply nitrogen to the soil. As a result, roughly half of it ends up in groundwater, contaminating waterways, causing algae blooms, and interacting with other organisms. It also produces nitrous oxide, another pollutant. 

This alternative approach would get nitrogen into the chloroplasts through the leaves and control its release, a much more efficient mode of application that could help farmers and improve the environment. 

The National Science Foundation has granted Giraldo and his colleagues $1.6 million to develop this targeted nitrogen delivery technology.

“I’m very excited about all of this research,” Giraldo said. “I think it could have a huge impact on peoples’ lives.”SHARE THIS ARTICLE

Black cats slaughtered and boiled in Vietnam to make coronavirus ‘cure’, says charity

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Black cats are being killed in Vietnam and turned into concoction claimed to cure coronavirus, a charity has claimed.

The No To Dog Meat group in the country says the animals are being boiled, skinned and cooked into a pasta that people are drinking in the hope it will serve as a treatment for COVID-19.

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Gruesome pictures and video obtained by the charity show rows of dead cats drying in the sun after being slaughtered, while others show cats being put into cooking pots.

Other images show the black paste allegedly produced by the process — with one apparently showing a baby being fed the mixture.

The charity says the practice is mainly happening in the city of Hanoi but the pasta is also being sold online, with traders adding ‘black cat’ to their list of supposed remedies for coronavirus.

Julia de Cadenet, founder of the charity which campaigns for an end to the dog and cat meat trade, said: “People all over the world are understandably terrified of COVID-19, but this does not excuse the horrific cruelty that Vietnamese people are inflicting on these poor cats.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that eating cats cures coronavirus, and even if there was, this inhumane treatment is a level of cruelty that is unacceptable even for those who eat meat.

“In China when the virus first broke rumours flew around that pets could spread the disease, this led to many people and the authorities rounding up animals and killing them.

“Our human fears about this pandemic should not be used as an excuse to treat defenceless animals who look to us for protection, with utter contempt.”

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She said she has warned both the UK Government and the United Nations repeatedly that unsanitary meat production such as the dog and cat meat trade could cause a global health crisis.

She added: “They recognise that live slaughter of animals in markets is particularly unsanitary and that human consumption of wildlife and endangered species must end.

“China recently banned eating wildlife and formally recognised dogs and cats as pets, not food but more needs to be done throughout Asia.

“In Vietnam and Indonesia, the practice of eating dogs and cats and exotic wildlife is still highly prevalent. Traders have been promoting ‘ exotic’ meats as a cure to coronavirus.”

EXPLOSIVE DAVID ICKE CORONAVIRUS & 5G VIDEO NOW DELETED BY VIMEO, AS WELL AS YOUTUBE. WHAT THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW??

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