Turning tobacco plants into antibody factories

Tobacco by Kevinbercaw in Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tabacco_Field.jpg

Tobacco field (Kevinbercaw/Wikimedia Commons)

Tobacco may have a redeeming quality after all…as a tool for fighting West Nile virus.

Arielle Duhaime-Ross at The Verge writes:

[S]cientists introduced a gene that produces monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) — proteins derived from cloned immune cells that fight off disease — into a “deconstructed” plant virus vector. Then, they introduced the vector into the tobacco plants. … During this period, the virus vector produces a large amount of MAbs that the researchers can then extract, after harvesting the plants.

Once extracted, the scientists injected the MAbs into mice that had already been infected with West Nile virus. The results of the study show that in 90 percent of cases, the mice evaded death — and eventually made a full recovery.

This isn’t the first time tobacco’s been used as a treatment factory. Scientists have also used it to manufacture antibodies for rabies and vaccines for the flu…experimentally, anyway.

Get the rest of the West Nile story here.

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