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TORONTO – Given the option, would you prefer to get the vaccine by taking an injection in the arm or by eating a bowl of vegetables?

Scientists at the University of California at Riverside (UCR) are currently studying whether they can turn edible plants, such as lettuce and spinach, into mRNA vaccines that people can grow on their own.

The research project has three objectives: to show that vaccines containing DNA containing mRNA can be successfully integrated into plant cells; demonstrate that plants can replicate enough mRNA to compete with current injection methods; and to determine the correct dosage.

“Ideally, a single plant would produce enough mRNA to vaccinate a single person,” Juan Pablo Giraldo, senior researcher and associate professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UCR, said in a press release.

“We are testing this approach with spinach and lettuce and have long term goals for people to grow it in their own gardens,” he added. “Farmers could also cultivate entire fields. “

According to Giraldo, the key to introducing mRNA vaccines to plants lies in the chloroplasts, which are the small organs in plant cells responsible for photosynthesis.

“These are tiny solar-powered factories that produce sugar and other molecules that allow the plant to thrive,” Giraldo said. “They are also an untapped source for making desirable molecules.”

Previous lab work by Giraldo has shown that chloroplasts can express genes that are not naturally part of the plant. This was achieved by sending foreign genetic material inside a protective envelope in plant cells.

Similar research on an edible COVID-19 vaccine is also being conducted near you.

A team of scientists led by Allyson MacLean, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Ottawa, has been working for more than a year on another means of immunization against the virus.

Their method involves the expression of viral antigens in edible plants, including lettuce and spinach, which people would then eat. Vaccine testing has already started in partnership with The Ottawa Hospital.

The mRNA technology used in some conventional COVID-19 vaccines works by using mRNA to provide human cells with genetic instructions to make antibodies against specific diseases. One of the challenges of mRNA vaccines, however, is that they must be stored at cold temperatures to maintain stability during transport and storage.

If the UCR research project is successful, it could not only make edible mRNA vaccines possible, but also create an mRNA vaccine that can be stored at room temperature.

“I am very excited about all of this research,” Giraldo said. “I think it could have a huge impact on people’s lives.”

The research project is supported by a US $ 500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation of the United States.

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