Potatoes Lead In Biopharmaceuticals

Published online: Jul 13, 2000
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Scientists are waging a war of words following the recent announcement of the development of a potato containing an edible vaccine.

Many believe the genetically engineered potato will be the answer to solve such problems as taking vaccines to areas of the world where injected vaccines are less practical. In addition, they say the vaccine would be easy to produce, safe, affordable and very effective.

"This plant-based vaccine could be the first one readily accepted in the developed world. It's very exciting," Dr. Charles Arntzen, president and chief executive of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University and the University of Maryland School of Medicine at Baltimore, said.

The recently developed vaccine protects against a food-borne virus that is the leading cause of food-borne illnesses in the United States.

The group has already successfully triggered an immune response in humans to the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli) through a transgenic potato vaccine.

A third BTI study, funded by the British biotechnology company Axis Genetics began human trials last year of a potato genetically engineered to carry a vaccine for hepatitis B, a virus that kills more than one million people each year and is a leading cause of liver cancer.

But the critics say engineering plants to carry vaccines is bad medicine. They claim doctors would be unable to control how much of an edible vaccine a person ate. They also say there would be no way to keep these genes from spreading in the environment.