The USDA announced on Nov. 30 that ARS scientists have determined plants can “be used to produce nanobodies that quickly block emerging pathogens in human medicine and agriculture.”
The nanobodies, according to a government press release, “represent a promising new way to treat viral diseases, including SARS-CoV-2.
Nanobodies are small antibody proteins naturally produced in specific animals like camels, alpacas, and llamas.”
AgroSource, Inc. collaborated with USDA-ARS to develop the plant-based production system. They are currently taking the necessary steps to see how they can move this advancement into the commercial sector.
The release said, “ARS researchers turned to evaluating nanobodies to prevent and treat citrus greening disease in citrus trees. These scientists are now using their newly developed and patented SymbiontTM technology to show that nanobodies can be easily produced in a plant system with broad agricultural and public health applications. As a proof-of-concept, researchers showed that nanobodies targeting the SARS-CoV-2 virus could be made in plant cells and remain functional in blocking the binding of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to its receptor protein: the process responsible for initiating viral infection in human cells.”
ARS researcher Robert Shatters, Jr. is quoted as saying, “We initially wanted to develop sustainable solutions to pathogens in crop production. The results of that research are indeed successful and beneficial for the nation’s agricultural system. But now we are aware of an even greater result – the benefits of producing therapeutics in plants now justify the consideration of using plants to mass produce COVID-19 protein-based therapies.”
And ARS researcher Michelle Heck added, “This is a huge breakthrough for science and innovative solutions to agricultural and public health challenges. This cost-efficient, plant-based system proves that there are alternative ways to confront and prevent the spread of emerging pathogens. The approach has the potential to massively expand livelihood development opportunities in rural agricultural areas of the nation and in other countries.”
This research collaboration is in response to the White House’s Executive Order on advancing biotechnology and biomanufacturing innovation for a sustainable, safe, and secure American bioeconomy, the release noted.