Edible Vaccines

By: Sophia Dekker

How has genetic modification been used for adding immunizations into our food?

The History of Edible Vaccines

According to the Journal of Young Investigators, while visiting Thailand in 1992, Dr. Charles Artzen saw a mother calm her baby down with pieces of a banana. This gave him an idea. He thought that he could put vaccines in bananas and other foods that children like in order for them to stay calm while receiving vaccines. As another added bonus, foods such as bananas can be grown in the area where they are needed and can be eaten raw.

How the Process will Work

According to ScienceNordic, the genetic information of a specific antigen, a toxin or other foreign substance that induces an immune response in the body, can be spliced into the food's or plant's genome, allowing the plant to produce the antigen in its cells. But, this antigen will be dead or weakened so that it will not cause an actual sickness in the person who is eating it. When the food that was producing these antigens is eaten, it will act like a normal vaccine. Just like a normal, injected vaccine, an edible vaccine will create an immune response because of the antigen, leading to the body detecting the antigen and launching an immediate attack, completely wiping it out. The next time that person encounters the actual disease, the body will remember it, and be able to wipe it out immediately because it will remember the weakened antigen as the same as the actual, fully active antigen.

Also according to ScienceNordic, this food can either be eaten as a whole, or as tablets. Foods that can be eaten raw such as bananas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes can be eaten as a whole. Otherwise, the foods and plants can be dried and ground into a thoroughly mixed powder. The plant powder can be used to make tablets or capsules to be swallowed directly.

Cons to Edible Vaccines

According to William H.R. Langridge, a professor in the department of biochemistry and the Center for Health Disparities and Molecular Medicine at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, researchers are not fully certain if edible vaccines will work, since they haven't had much testing yet. Also, scientists don't know if edible vaccines can be used to cure everything, such as nose or mouth infections or future diseases. Even if edible vaccines will cure nose and mouth infections, scientists aren't sure if the plants will produce enough antigens to cause a proper immune response. Even worse, some plants grow poorly when foreign genes are put into them, so these types of plants couldn't be used for vaccines.

Pros to Edible Vaccines