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Killer tomatoes vs. killer viruses

Cap'n Refsmmat

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Genetics researchers are developing a genetically modified tomato plant that produces fragments of HIV and Hepatitis B proteins during its growth, which can then be easily extracted and used as an oral vaccine for those diseases.


The researchers hope the vaccine could be "grown" in the countries that need it most, where it could be then distributed in tablet form cheaply and efficiently. It is easier to make and use than an injected vaccine, and trials on mice have already found that feeding them the proteins will cause antibodies to build up in their immune systems. If it works out - as none of the 90 or so other potential HIV viruses have - it could possibly save millions of lives.



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When I first saw this thread, why did I automatically think of 'Tomacco'?

(From the Simpsons where Homer used Plutonium as a crop fertiliser and created a tomato with a tobacco centre which was instantly addicting (for those who don't know the Simpsons))


Nonetheless, if that action works, brilliant. But would it be restricted where it can grow? I mean, would it be able to grow in the more arid areas of Africa?


Also, would it still taste as a tomato? It would be great if it tasted great AND helped keep you alive. Talk about killing 2 birds with one stone - 2 methods to keeping you alive.

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I find the idea of shooting up tomato hilarious. I understand this is a distortion. Anyhow, I hope they continue making progress with this. I hope I live to see a successful vaccine against AIDS, and the special extra bonus will be the befuddled faces of those crazy "AIDS is punishment by God" people.

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  • 4 months later...

Oral vaccines have not done well against HIV or Hepatitis B; they are both good at hiding from the immune system, HBV in the liver where too much detritus congregates and HIV in the immune system cells themselves. HIV in particular is a wily foe that evloves rapidly enough to counter targeted vaccines within an individual body (It is almost true to say that no two AIDS sufferers have genetically indentical HIV infections).


I suspect that this tomato vaccine is using a scatter-gun approach, throwing large numbers of different haptens at the immune system to the hope that enough will illicit a contemporaneous immune response to provide protection against the initial viral innoculation - when viruses are most vulnerable.


The trick is in finding a means of cheaply providing a concentrated, complex mixture so if the GM tomatoes can do this, fine. However a multi-target vaccine won't be very efficient so the actual protection could be patchy. If higher dosages than is typical for vaccines are to be given to improve efficiency (as I suspect was given to the experimentors' mice, due to the reported existence antibodies on mucosal surfaces - it is a rough ride for a protein fragment from the stomach all the way to such peripheral areas, few fragments would make it.) the chances of allergic reaction or other unknown sensitivities to arise.


If my suspicisions are correct I consider it doubtful that FDA approval would be forthcoming, though considering the ravaging of Africa, it might be well worth the small risk of side-effects for any sort of protection against AIDS if it is affordable.


And the North/South divide opens just a little further...

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