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Proteins in tobacco is key ingredient in Covid-19 vaccine

CAPE TOWN – Biotech company is producing key proteins found in the tobacco plant, Nicotiana benthamiana, for use in Covid-19 vaccines.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues and the world awaits the development of an official Covid-19 vaccine, many scientists and researchers are taking to learn more about the novel coronavirus looking at alternative measures to treating Covid-19 infections.

Scientists are now looking at tobacco plants with two biotech companies already underway to produce a key protein found in tobacco plants to be used in Covid-19 vaccines despite the fair share of illnesses and death tobacco itself has brought upon users.

Kentucky BioProcessing is one of the biotech companies looking into producing a Covid-19 vaccine based on tobacco plants with James Figlar, executive vice president for research and development for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and owner of Kentucky BioProcessing saying, “There’s obvious irony there. If you wanted to be cynical about it, you could. But we tend to think of it as like at the end of the day, the tobacco plant in and of itself is still just a plant.”

Vaccines work in a way that it prepares the immune system to fight viruses or infections by tricking it into believing it has already been exposed with various methods vaccines can do this, Kentucky Bioprocessing approach is to introduce what appears to be Covid-19 to the immune system and is not infectious.

The vaccine development process begins with the tobacco seeds that are planted within a greenhouse and approximately 25 days later, it is dipped into a solution containing specially modified agrobacteria which are microorganisms that infect plants and in this case helps the plants produce protein from the coronavirus.

After seven days of exposure to the agrobacteria, Hugh Haydon, the president of the company, says the plants are harvested then go through an extraction and purification phase which results in a 99.9 percent pure protein.

Another set of plants serve the purpose of producing particles for packaging the viral protein with Haydon saying, “Once each of those components has been manufactured and purified separately, we chemically attach them to each other.”

The final result is what can be used as a Covid-19 vaccine injection that will present itself as a virus and prompt an immune response although not infectious, and although it still requires further testing and development, what makes this vaccine approach special over others, is that it can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures and remain stable at room temperature making it a lot easier to distribute.

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