UC Riverside team studies ways to put mRNA vaccines in salads

A team at the University of California-Riverside is working on a method to deliver mRNA vaccines through vegetables.

The CDC states on its website that such technology may minimize the 'number of shots needed for protection against common vaccine-preventable diseases.'

A team at the University of California, Riverside is devising a method to deliver mRNA vaccines through salads.

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are examples of mRNA vaccines. 

The National Science Foundation gave botany professor Juan Pablo Giraldo and his team a $500,000 grant to study “whether they can turn edible plants like lettuce into mRNA vaccine factories,” UC Riverside News reports

Researchers at the University of California-San Diego and Carnegie Mellon University are joining in the initiative.

The goals of the project are threefold: “showing that DNA containing the mRNA vaccines can be successfully delivered into the part of plant cells where it will replicate, demonstrating the plants can produce enough mRNA to rival a traditional shot, and finally, determining the right dosage,” the UC article states.

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“Ideally, a single plant would produce enough mRNA to vaccinate a single person,” Giraldo told the outlet. “We are testing this approach with spinach and lettuce and have long-term goals of people growing it in their own gardens. Farmers could also eventually grow entire fields of it.”

Giraldo added that chloroplasts — “tiny, solar-powered factories that produce sugar and other molecules which allow the plant to grow” — may serve as an “untapped source for making desirable molecules.” Nanotechnologies developed by UC San Diego professor Nicole Steinmetz may succeed in delivering genetic material to the chloroplasts.

”Our idea is to repurpose naturally occurring nanoparticles, namely plant viruses, for gene delivery to plants,” Steinmetz explained. “Some engineering goes into this to make the nanoparticles go to the chloroplasts and also to render them non-infectious toward the plants.”

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Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines are based upon the delivery of messenger RNA — abbreviated as “mRNA” — to cells. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains, cells then take the genetic material and manufacture spike proteins similar to those found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Future mRNA vaccine technology may allow for one vaccine to provide protection for multiple diseases, thus decreasing the number of shots needed for protection against common vaccine-preventable diseases,” the CDC states. 

Campus Reform reached out to Giraldo for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft