Researchers are now experimenting with the idea of placing mRNA vaccines in lettuce and other agricultural crops, reports say.
The National Science Foundation is funding this study, having committed more than half a million dollars in grant for the mRna-in-lettuce initiative, NOQ Report revealed.
"This project aims to enable rapid manufacturing of oral vaccines against viruses in plants without the need of specialized equipment or skills. Current vaccine manufacturing technologies need expensive laboratory facilities and cold-chain delivery systems that result in slow and unequal access of vaccines to people," reads the study's abstract in part.
"This study combines ideas and approaches from the engineering of particles, chloroplast genetics, and plant molecular farming, to turn chloroplasts of edible plant leaves like spinach or lettuce into biomanufacturing devices for vaccine production," it added.
Juan Pablo Giraldo, an associate professor of botany and plant sciences, says that "ideally, a single plant would produce enough mRNA to vaccinate a single person."
"We are testing this approach with spinach and lettuce and have long-term goals of people growing it in their gardens," he added.
NOQ Report indicated that one possible motive behind this project is the fact that many do not want to get vaccinated against COVID-19. By putting the vaccines in the food people eat (including tomatoes, as seen in the video above), more can get inoculated - especially those who refuse the jab but don't know the salad on their table is enough to vaccinate them.
More plant-based vaccines being tested
According to a report published last month by DW News, scientists claim that rice, corn, potatoes, and lettuce may all be utilized to manufacture antibodies. Biotech companies are reportedly conducting clinical studies with their plant-based medicines or are seeking permission from regulatory authorities in order to fight diseases such as "ebola, norovirus, and COVID-19."
The report says that the plant-based vaccine, even though it is still being tested on animals, has already aroused the attention of a large number of people.
It states that Nicotiana benthamiana, a close relative of tobacco, is the subject of research being conducted by the Canadian biotechnology firm Medicago and Britain's GlaxoSmithKline. The trial has 20,000 participants.
This particular trial reportedly drew a large number of vegan and vegetarian test subjects in Argentina, the country with a long livestock tradition. Argentina is the world's second largest beef consumer per capita, but the number of vegetarians and vegans is increasing. They now account for more than 10% of the population.
Preliminary findings for the plant-based vaccine, the report said, show that it can generate up to 50 times more antibodies than conventional vaccines.
Additionally, it claimed that people are becoming more "environmentally aware" on a daily basis, which served as a backdrop for the plant-based vaccine.
According to Zacharie LeBlanc of Queensland University of Technology, the benefit of utilizing plants lies in the "system's scalability" over these other "mammalian cell-based" methods. It's also cheaper and safer.
"It's visibly a lot cheaper when you're producing a plant to amplify this biomass which can then produce your vaccine," he said.
When asked how soon this plant-based COVID vaccine will be accessible, LeBlanc said that the main challenge is getting through the clinical trials.
He explained that the Medicago group is currently in phase three clinical trials for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, and that after obtaining the spike protein sequence, they were able to create a vaccine in 20 days. That implies they already have it.
"It's just that you need all that time to make sure it's safe to distribute to the general population," he said. "And that's why those lengthy clinical trials are there."