New technique could produce proteins without genetically engineering whole plants
CHICAGO — A new technique could induce plant leaves to mass produce custom proteins in a matter of weeks. The plant cells could make virtually any kind of protein, including antigens for rapid production of vaccines against new viruses.
By injecting harvested plant leaves with the gene for a desired protein, scientists can make the plant cells produce the protein without ever genetically engineering the entire plant. Developing a genetically modified plant and getting government approval can take years. In this method, DNA inserted into the leaves floats freely in the cytoplasm of the cell where it is transcribed.
The new method also employs a vacuum chamber to infuse batches of leaves all at once, improving on previous techniques of injecting a gene into the leaves by hand using a syringe — a painstaking process not easily scaled up for mass production.