Going bananas for vaccines

Recently, ASU scientist Charles Arntzen’s pioneering plant-based vaccine efforts were highlighted in an article in the Los Angeles Times covering the history of bananas and genetic engineering.

LA Times health reporter Rosie Mestel writes:

“Bananas were once explored for another biotech use: creating edible vaccines against various human diseases. Charles Arntzen, a plant biotechnologist at Arizona State University, had in mind producing bananas engineered to make a protein from the bacterium that causes cholera.

This protein doesn't cause disease "but it's a very good vaccine," Arntzen said. The bananas would be harvested and made into chips and powder and these would be given to people in developing countries who don't have good access to modern vaccines. The banana chips, once eaten, would expose the body to the cholera protein and offer resistance later on to encounters with the cholera bacterium.

Arntzen once had high hopes for the concept (he worked on something similar in tomatoes), but the regulatory hurdles for an edible vaccine plus the money needed for safety trials made the whole endeavor too complicated, he said. He and most others have abandoned the effort and moved on to growing non-edible vaccines in tobacco plants.

The remaining edible vaccine efforts are mostly for delivery to fish and other animals, Arntzen said.

Read the full article: “Bananas and genetic engineering: Past, present and future