Scientists Growing mRNA Vaccine-Filled Plants to Replace COVID Injections

by Jamie White

A team of scientists is working on a way to make your leafy green salad a new cutting-edge COVID vaccine delivery system.

Yes, really.

The National Science Foundation awarded a $500,000 grant to researchers from UC-San Diego and Carnegie Mellon University to try to successfully inject DNA containing mRNA vaccines into plant cells, where they can replicate and be harvested as “edible vaccines.”

“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, in a university 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,” Giraldo added.

Giraldo explained his team is using nanotechnology to manipulate the small organs inside plant cells, called chloroplasts – which help convert sunlight into energy – to incubate mRNA vaccine product particles.

“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.”

“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 added.

UC-San Diego’s Professor Nicole Steinmetz elaborated that the nanotechnology will “repurpose” plant viruses to create a new gene therapy product.

“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.”

This development comes just weeks after the Food and Drug Administration formally approved Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine for widespread use in individuals over 16 years old.

Maybe these edible plant mRNA vaccines will someday soon be presented as gross little food squares of the future.


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