Tobacco Plants Offer Sustainable Solution For Vaccine Ingredient Production

Tobacco plants replicate crucial vaccine ingredient, revolutionizing production

<p>A valuable ingredient used to create <a href=>vaccines</a> has been replicated in tobacco plants for the first time. MUFID MAJNUN VIA UNSPLASH.</p>

Tobacco is revolutionizing the way that vaccines are made, a new study has revealed.


The term “tobacco” refers to a variety of plants of the Solanaceae family’s genus Nicotiana as well as any product made from the dried leaves of these plants.  


A valuable ingredient used to create vaccines( a biological preparation that offers protection against a specific infectious or malignant illness through active acquired immunity) has been replicated in tobacco plants for the first time, opening unprecedented opportunities for the industry.


Originally sourced from the soapbark tree, the molecule QS-21 is a potent ingredient that boosts the strength of human vaccines for shingles, malaria, and others under development.


It is known as an adjuvant, immunostimulant that primes the body’s response to the vaccine. For many years scientists have been looking for ways to produce QS-21 more sustainably, in either yeast or tobacco plants.


This new study, published in Nature Chemical Biology, used around 70 candidate genes and transferred them to tobacco plants, which was then narrowed down to the final 20.


“Our study opens unprecedented opportunities for bioengineering vaccine adjuvants,” said Professor Anne Osbourn from the John Innes Centre, Norwich.


“We can now investigate and improve these compounds to promote the human immune response to vaccines and produce QS-21 in a way which does not depend on extraction from the soapbark tree,” she added.


This study is the first to achieve this replication in an alternative host plant, which will transform the sustainability of the vaccine industry.


“This is the first time QS-21 has been produced in a heterologous expression system. This means we can better understand how this molecule works and how we might address issues of scale and toxicity,” said Dr. Laetitia Martin.


“What is so rewarding is that this molecule is used in vaccines and by being able to make it more sustainably my project has an impact on people’s lives. It’s amazing to think that something so scientifically rewarding can bring such good to society,” she added. 


“On a personal level, this research was scientifically extremely rewarding. I am not a chemist so I could not have done this without the support of the John Innes Centre metabolomics platform and chemistry platform,” she continued.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker