• Power plant

    Power plant

    Scientists from a South African university have released a proof-of-concept for the plant-based manufacture of vaccines targeting emerging viruses such as COVID-19.

    According to the University of Cape Town (UCT), the scientists have ‘demonstrated the potential of molecular engineering to boost the production of viral glycoproteins in plants, while supporting the feasibility of plant-based production of SARS-CoV-2 spike-based vaccines’.

    The researchers were able to express a near full-length SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein in the cells of a tobacco species, Nicotiana benthamiana. Spike glycoproteins are important for vaccine development as antibodies directed against them trigger an immune response to the infection.

    Emmanuel Margolin, UCT postdoctoral scientist and lead author on the paper, says the research now needs critical investment in order to explore the potential of the study. ‘With sufficient investment and development we could actually have a vaccine platform to service the needs not only of South Africa, but also of the continent.’

    He adds that the plants provide a potentially cheaper, faster, safer and highly scalable means of producing pharmaceutically relevant proteins. Theirs was an ‘important proof-of-concept because our work was ultimately trying to develop a platform that we can use for emerging viruses’.

    28 September 2021
    Image: Gallo/Getty Images