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Souped-Up Spuds Show Promise for Edible Vaccines

Protection against two deadly stomach diseases may one day come in a single serving of transgenic spuds, if new research is any indication. According to a report published in the June issue of Nature Biotechnology, scientists have developed vaccine-carrying potatoes that, when fed to mice, immunized them against both rotavirus and enterogenic Escherichia coli.

Researchers have been working on edible vaccines for some time, but the products have proved only moderately successful. One problem has been that the gut tissues degrade the vaccine components before they reach the immune system. To get around that obstacle, William Langridge and Jie Yu of Loma Linda University enlisted the help of the deadly cholera toxin (CT), which does not succumb to the gut's digestive juices. By fusing snippets of CT to pieces of the rotavirus and E. coli, the researchers created a resilient combo vaccine, which they then incorporated into potatoes.

Female mice that ate these potatoes, the team reports, exhibited a strong immune response even two months after inoculation. Furthermore, pups of the immunized mice showed some immunity too. The results of this research, Langridge and Yu conclude, "suggest that food plants can function as vaccines for simultaneous protection against infectious [viral] and bacterial diseases."

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