Grow and Eat Your Own Vaccines? Using Plants As mRNA Factories


The future of vaccines could look a lot like this.

Scientists are working on transforming edible plants into mRNA vaccine producers, potentially enabling vaccines to be grown in home gardens and stored without refrigeration.

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

Green Fluorescent Proteins

Chloroplasts (magenta) 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. Credit: Israel Santana/UCR

“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.”

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.

Plant Nanotube

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

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.”

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 people’s lives.”

38 Comments on "Grow and Eat Your Own Vaccines? Using Plants As mRNA Factories"

  1. Leave our veggis alone. There is already enough genetically modified crap out there for us to have to eat. God made our foods with exactly what we need in them.

  2. This is dumb.. leave our plants alone.. Give Bill Gates the memo

  3. So now we need to grow our own lettuce to be sure it’s not genetically modified? The end is near.

  4. I don’t want to be forced to take anything that I don’t want. God made the plants without any help to man and it needs to start like that. Stop trying to play God. Leave my food alone. God made me and He made exactly want I need to survive.

  5. I agree leave the lettuce be we don’t need meds in a salad

  6. This bull crap, we already have a vaccine

  7. The chance of cross contamination and mutation of the mrna is too high to discount a huge disaster in the making.

  8. @ssholes!! Leave our food alone. These scientists are some the biggest idiots lacking any common sense on the face of this planet. May God have mercy on you tainted souls!

  9. Bradley A Spaugh | January 10, 2022 at 1:48 pm | Reply

    We do not want your abomination tainting our food.

  10. Previous commentors, stick to watching Fox news. Its geared for the uneducated.


  12. Concerned Human | January 10, 2022 at 6:59 pm | Reply

    We have heard that GMOs plants are bad from the same sheep that will look the other way and buy into this scheme. You can bet on that.

    Do you think they will tell us which plants have this modification or will they just not say a word?

  13. Allen T Williams | January 10, 2022 at 9:14 pm | Reply

    Stop playing God you will loose. God is in control not you.

  14. Stop trying to FORCE people to take your poison the answer is NO,H*LL NO. We don’t want the vaccine and stop f*cking with our food you damn mad scientist psychopaths.

  15. I now understand why The rich Man bought so much land ( guess) . With this Frankinstien food creation lot of money to be made.
    Just like these test kits $$$$price up up up.

  16. Sounds like an interesting idea. Would be nice if it pans out.

  17. Michael F Hopkins | January 11, 2022 at 6:49 am | Reply

    I think this is a very intelligent way of helping us to avoid many sicknesses. Definitely a better approach than a vaccine. Especially when reading on the affect of reducing nitrogen run offs from farms is a great idea due to affects of nitrogen run off.

  18. Sure..yeah brilliant fkn idea. Play God and accidentally fck up the biosphere with this crap and its over for us. So many unintended consequences, and no way to control dose so its obvious its not for health but harm.

  19. Stop altering things that have no business being altered! Nothing is sacred anymore. 😥

  20. For the love of God, leave our food alone! Psychopaths.

  21. This is the war against Creator God, and against his Creation. GMO to these people stands for “God Move Over”. I don’t think so…. God will have the last say!!!

    • I wish GOD would remove all these ba$tards from the gene pool before it’s too late! Human population control…pure and simple.

  22. This is just a way for big pharmacy and big agriculture to bypass FDA regulations much like Operation:Warpseed. Throw in vaccine and a covid scare and now all the big boys club that everyone supposedly hates has more economic power and influence even over what’s put on your dinner table, moreso than what they’ve had before.

  23. This is crazy, Can’t trust the government can’t trust the scientist leave our food alone…..STOP Destroy an hour planet Damn it!!

  24. Jordan L Robins | January 11, 2022 at 9:14 am | Reply

    Leave our f****** food alone this is the type of thing to push someone over the edge. I don’t want any of your mRNA vaccines. If I find out you’re putting them in my salad I’m going to have a fun little party with you and your whole family going away party if you catch my drift you son of a b****.

  25. This is amazing! Imagine being able to eradicate childhood illness or protect against new diseases with food that can be grown hydroponically anywhere
    This is such a beautiful concept! I am definitely going to follow whatever they make public concerning this research

  26. No. Hell no. Stop this crap. Y’all are going WAY TOO FAR.

  27. Wow people are really against any progress. I’m ashamed. Congratulations on the great work to the scientists behind all this. But shame on all you commenters with such simple and silly minds, you truly are holding us back

  28. Oh, becoming a GMO with the jab wasn’t enough for ya? Try our new COVID franken-food! What could possibly go wrong?!

  29. We’ve warned our local health food store about this, and they have stopped buying greens from California.

    However, this Corey’s Digs episode makes it clearn that numerous other kinds of produce will be affected, and that it’s coming to a high-rise greenhouse near all of us, or to our favorite grocery store:

  30. Somebody please shoot Geraldo.

  31. Kill Gates is a domestic terrorist & needs to quit making decisions based on his climate change religion delusions. No one wants to OD on his genetically altering tainted food.

  32. alter your own genetics and leave mine alone

  33. So if you eat Lettuce everyday with that crap
    Wouldn’t you overdose
    That’s stupid ass heck.
    Wasting money on craziness
    Dang we can est nothing now days that’s natural
    Make that crap for your own self

  34. [[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.]]

    Just a side note, this quote is telling. His primary driver is high-value products– money. Not people.

    All these commenters referencing religion are a bit of a distraction. Sure, their personal values matter on an individual level, but if you sanitize the issue of religion, there is still the universal ethical issue of bodily autonomy and informed consent.

    If you walk into any restaurant and do not know if you are ingesting a genetically modifying therapy, then there is not informed consent.
    If the genetically-modifying produce does not have a clear label on packaging, it’s not informed consent.
    If there is not an accessible, alternative food that does not have the gene-modifying properties, consent is not available for the person making a purchase– and since the purchase is food, not a non-essential luxury item, alternatives need to be available.

    There’s a looming ethical issue to be sorted out with these sorts of food-science projects, and when the project lead, inventor, or promoting medias fail to address these concerns, it leaves the people feeling very unheard and vulnerable to forceful, non-consenting participation in something that will intentionally modify their genetic expression.

    Cutting through all the personally held values that people immediately turn to when they receive such novel information (whether that value be ‘god,’ ‘progress,’ or a savior complex for ‘all those people who could benefit,’) the issue of consent and bodily autonomy remains.
    We are seeing the right to privacy and bodily autonomy degrade recently, buckling under pressure from pharmaceutical corporations to take novel therapies such as MRNA injections, and also from the right wing political forces dismantling the federal protections for even basic levels of abortion access.

    I would suggest separating the personal from the universal here, and focusing on what we can do to help uphold people’s rights.

  35. you’re NOT scientists…you’re 💯pre meditared murderers..and should be treated as such.

  36. We have no idea what mRNA in plants will do to pollinating insects. And we already blame “climate change” for so much of what happens to the life on this planet, without considering the roles of pesticides (neonics), GMOs and even 5G (a study showed that it could overheat the antenna of Monarch butterflies, among other insects, and throw them off course since they navigate that way — but did that stop the 5G rollout)?

    None of the things that make Capitalism seem so corrupt and beyond repair to our Marxist friends are inevitable. They happen because we allow Corporations to exist in the legal system as “people” — but with much deeper pockets and bigger megaphones by which to write the legislation they want, and get it passed by showering BOTH PARTIES in political donations (and increasingly “dark money” thanks to Citizens United).

    Then we have Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum and his rational for “stakeholder capitalism”. That’s just a euphemism for allowing the the public sector (government) to get in bad with the private sector (Big Business and the billionaire class), while the rest of us who have fewer conflicts of interest because we are neither rich nor powerful are ignored so that the lobbyists can write legislation the elected representatives — criminally — do not even read before they vote on it (which SHOULD be illegal if we want to retain our health OR sovereignty). The more accurate characterization is not that we live in a Capitalist free market society. As libertarians point out, that kind of economy doesn’t exist. Nor is the answer socialism because absolute power corrupts absolutely — this naive notion that if only MORE benevolent experts were in charge we would have an equitable world. In fact, all communist/socialist experiments have failed even faster than their crony Capitalist counterparts.

    The answer is Accountable Capitalism. Accountable capitalism requires term limits. It requires public financing of campaigns. It requires not only divestment while serving in public office but an end to the “revolving door” between public and private employment. Specifically, Accountable Capitalism would require a 5-year “cooling off” period before a high-level government bureaucrat or regulator can go to work for a bank or pharmaceutical company they once regulated in the private sector or for someone fresh off of Wall Street or Big Pharma to take a job as a government regulator.

    There are MANY things we can do to sever the corrupt relationship between private industry and public service that currently amounts to the classical definition of Fascism (Italian style). Globalization and all this talk of “integration” and “cooperation” for the sake of free trade sounded good while it lasted, but in practice even the Climate Change issue is not best served by moving goods to market over vast distances using polluting forms of transportation (i.e. cargo ships from China). Accountable Capitalism will turn away from the 1980s mindset of “globalize at all costs” and return to a balanced view of producing goods, services and food closer to market not from foreign entities but from regionally owned-operated franchises. Accountable Capitalism means taking the “stakeholder” and the “expert” out of the driver’s seat — i.e. vested interests that are often conflicted interests — and replacing it with citizen oversight boards.

    Accountable Capitalism means stopping the mass offshoring of labor to countries that do not value human rights and self-sufficiency on the energy front so that we are not political dependents of China, OPEC or others.

    There are ways to reform the system we have short of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. But in order to get over that finish line, we must do one very hard and difficult thing: Stop believing in PARTY over principle. Our two-party system is co-opted by these interests and seek to divide and conquer voters so that we consistently point at everyone and everything BUT them. It is time we reject that gaslighting and come to appreciate that we can achieve true progress if we play on the same team — and no progress if the wealthy and the powerful in media, government and international business continue to divide us down the middle.

    Pursuit of accountability isn’t a liberal thing or a conservative thing. It’s a civilization thing. We can’t sustain a “democracy” in this or any other country if we fail to realize that our struggle is not with ordinary citizens who hold different beliefs or values than our own — but with institutionalized power that is not accountable to us.

  37. You people are sick!!!! Stop f**ing with nature! Forcing people to take vaccines by putting it into their food is disturbing!!!! All you will do is hurt yourself in the end. We all need to start growing our own produce with sh*t like this in the pipeline!

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