We have long known that plants are essential to our existence, but now it seems that there is even more that they can do for us.

Researchers have suceeded to develop vaccines in plants, a process that could rapidly increase and accelerate vaccine production and lower treatment costs.

This latest breakthrough saw the technology used to produce the polio vaccine in a plant closely related to the tobacco plant.

The product is a molecule that is structurally identical to the exterior of the poliovirus, without containing the dangerous genetic information that allows viruses to hijack host cells. 

This allows the immune system to recognise and destroy the real poliovirus, before it can spread and cause damage to the body.

Cultivating cures

Scientists inserted a mixture of genetic code for the poliovirus and genetic code of a plant-affecting virus. The hybrid genes were inserted into soil bacteria that were used to infect the plants.

Once the plants were infected, they incubated the vaccine, enabling it to be extracted from the leaves.

A growing industry

Plants have also been successfully used to make vaccines against the Ebola virus at one-tenth of the cost of current methods.

This technique uses a similar method, inserting key genetic information into bacteria and infecting tobacco plants. 

In addition, Pharma-Planta managed to develop a plant-derived HIV antibody in 2011 that was safe for human use, a significant proof-of-concept step in developing a vaccine for the life-altering, deadly disease. 

Low-cost cancer treatment

Theoretically, any protein could be synthesised using this method, as long as the genetic code for the protein is known. 

This means protein drugs such as monoclonal antibodies, which are used frequently in cancer treatment, could be manufactured at much lower costs.

Scientists at the University of Guelph have managed to create a biosimilar of the breast cancer drug trastuzumab (Herceptin).

 It is thought that producing the drug through this method will reduce costs to just 17% of their current levels.

The net result of this technology is that access to key medicines such as vaccines and anti-cancer medication is likely to increase drastically, reducing the economic burden on healthcare systems by allowing better prevention and management of costly conditions.