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

Salad

The future of vaccines could look a lot like this.

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.

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 peoples’ lives.”

28 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. Assholes!! 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.

  11. NO ONE ABSOLUTELY NO ONE ASKED FOR THIS!!!!

  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!!!

  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?!

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