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UCR scientists are researching whether a plant-based messenger RNA vaccine can be created and aim to eliminate the need for the refrigeration of mRNA vaccines during transport and storage.
The University of California Riverside (UCR) announced in a Sept. 16, 2021, press release that their scientists are researching whether a plant-based messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine can be created. This vaccine would not have restrictions that require refrigeration during transport and storage, such as those used for the COVID-19 vaccines.
The goal for this project is to show that DNA containing the mRNA vaccines can be successfully delivered into the part of plant cells where it can replicate. This would demonstrate the plants can produce enough mRNA to rival a traditional vaccine or injection. They also hope to determine the proper dosage.
The key to making this work are chloroplasts, which are small organs in plant cells that convert sunlight into energy the plant can use. These chloroplasts produce sugar and other molecules that allow the plant to grow. In the past, Juan Pablo Giraldo, an associate professor in UCR’s Department of Botany and Plant Sciences and research lead, found it is possible for chloroplasts to express genes that aren’t naturally part of the plant after conducting prior research where he sent foreign genetic material into plant cells inside a protective casing.
“Ideally, a single plant would produce enough mRNA to vaccinate a single person,” said Giraldo in UCR’s press release. “We are testing this approach with spinach and lettuce and have long-term goals of people growing it in their own gardens. Farmers could also eventually grow entire fields of it.”
The National Science Foundation contributed a $500,000 grant toward their research, which is being performed in collaboration with scientists from UC San Diego and Carnegie Mellon University.