Tobacco may soon shed its negative image by becoming a pharmaceutical factory. The disorganised blobs of tissue pictured, known as callus, will grow into genetically modified tobacco plants that can produce a therapeutic anti-HIV antibody. Molecular farming (also known as ‘pharming’) involves genetically modifying plants to produce medically useful proteins like antibodies, vaccines and hormones. Tobacco is ideal for pharming as it’s easy to grow and harvest, and as a non-food plant, there’s no chance of gene transfer into the food chain. The first small-scale clinical trials of the tobacco HIV antibody have shown it’s safe, and further testing will establish if it’s effective. ‘Plantibodies’ could revolutionise medical treatment, reducing costs dramatically, but concerns over the safety and ethics of large-scale production have slowed progress. If these trials are successful, perhaps greenhouses will become the drugs factories of the future.
Written by Sarah McLusky
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.