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Vaccine salads

At present, there are a number of COVID-19 therapies which are delivered by way of messenger RNA technology (mRNA for short). In simple terms, these work by teaching cells from the immune system to recognise and attack a certain infectious disease. However, these therapies are extremely unstable and need to remain in cold storage. For instance, the Pfizer therapy needs to be stored in temperatures between minus 90 and minus 60 degrees Celsius.

However, researchers at the University of California-Riverside are working on a way to grow edible plants that carry the same medication as an mRNA therapy. If successful, they believe that people will soon be eating plant-based mRNA therapies which could survive at room temperature. The researchers essentially want to achieve three goals. Number one, the team will try to successfully deliver DNA containing mRNA into plant cells where they can replicate. Next, the team want to show that plants can actually produce enough mRNA to replace a traditional injection. Finally, they will need to determine the right dosage people will need to eat to properly replace vaccinations.

An associate professor involved in the experiment says that they are currently testing the approach with spinach and lettuce with a view to ensuring a single plant would produce enough mRNA to vaccinate a single person. They even believe that farmers could grow entire fields of it or, if you are a “green thumb”, you could grow it in your own garden.

This process of medical therapy via plants is referred to as molecular farming. It is essentially the use of plants cells to produce proteins rather than relying on the traditional method of using animal cells. For instance, flu vaccines are cultured in chicken eggs. The basic goal is that you genetically modify plants so that their cells become akin to little factories pumping out proteins of pharmaceutical interest. Many see advantages in this form of therapeutic distribution in poorer countries. Instead of constructing a new industrial lab, all one would need is a greenhouse. It is fast too – a batch of plants can be producing the required biopharmaceutical within about a week of infection by the agrobacteria. Once the process is complete, the plants just need to be harvested and crushed to produce a juice from which the pharmaceutical can be extracted. The most commonly used plant is Nicotiana Benthamiana, a smaller relative of the tobacco plant.

The use of plants for delivery of vaccines isn’t entirely new. There is actually one plant-based vaccine used for humans and that is to treat Gaucher disease. This is an inherited metabolic disorder in which an enzyme deficiency results in the accumulation of harmful quantities of certain fats throughout the body, especially within the bone marrow, spleen and liver. Interestingly, Gaucher disease is the most common genetic disorder of those with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. One of the treatment regimes involves plant-based oral delivery from specially modified plants grown in carrot cells.

Medicinal plants are mentioned a few times in the Bible. Gilead’s balm is mentioned in the book of Jeremiah. Gilead was a territory in Transjordan, north of Moab, whose northern regions were heavily wooded. It was well known for its medicinal balm which was a resin from the balsam tree that was commonly applied to wounds. Genesis 30 speaks about a plant known as “mandrake” which was thought to have properties which would aid in fertility. In fact, mandrake had around 88 different medicinal uses in the ancient world, some which continue to this day. It also bears the unfortunate name, “Satan’s apple”, due to the fact it contains yellow fruit which resembles a small apple and causes poisoning in cattle when eaten.

God’s creation is indeed marvelous and He has created certain plants with healing qualities. However, in my view, seeking to modify God’s creation into pharmaceutical factories is against the design of our Creator.

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