Although molecular farming is a promising method, its yield is still insufficient today and is still the subject of laboratory research. Recently, Japanese researchers succeeded in tripling this yield by spraying plants with vitamin C.
Making molecular farming more efficient
The objective of molecular agriculture is to make transgenic plants produce molecules of pharmaceutical interest in order to eventually manufacture drugs, even vaccines. Molecular agriculture has several advantages over chemical or cellular synthesis. It offers, among other things, a lower cost and the possibility of cultivating on large plots. Nevertheless, his yield is still insufficient. The mass of dry plant cells obtained from plants is ten times less than that of bacteria. It is also three times lower than that of yeasts.
According to a publication in the journal Plant physiology on February 26, 2021, researchers from the University of Tsukuba (Japan) believe they have found an effective and inexpensive solution. This involves spraying the leaves of the plants with a antioxidant that everyone knows : ascorbic acid (or vitamin C). The work of scientists focused on the species of tobacco Nicotiana benthamiana native to Australia. It is often used in molecular farming due to its ability to produce exogenous genes. It is also easily cultivated in a greenhouse.
Three times the yield
Scientists used a special technique: agro-infiltration. Concretely, it was a question of using the bacteria Agrobacteria in the plant. This same bacterium inserts a plasmid into the genome of the plant and express a gene producing the desired molecule. However, researchers face a significant problem. Expressing a large quantity of exogenous molecules can have undesirable consequences. This can cause dehydration of the leaf or the premature cell death.
Gold, ascorbic acid acts against these harmful effects, allowing to considerably increase the production of proteins. This antioxidant therefore prevents cell death, but can also reduce the degradation of just-formed proteins, inducing an increase in yield. Moreover, after verification, ascorbic acid does not interfere with the immunological properties of proteins. If the researchers got a return three times higher than normal, it might be possible to go even further.
The ascorbic acid spray technique has been tested on different types of recombinant proteins. Some concern in particular the production of functional antibodies. This technique therefore gives hope to players in the field for the development of molecular agriculture in the near future.