It is a new phenomenon that fascinates scientist and common people. It combines the use of agricultural plants and biotechnology. It is a scientific method of producing proteins, fats, Oils, hormones, human growth factors, antibodies and therapeutic drugs. These proteins are already produced by pharmaceutical companies. But through the use of this technique nature’s cheapest thing plants are used that are very much cheaper as compared to bioreactors used by medicinal companies for the production of therapeutic proteins.
Actually, it is a new term in life sciences that involves the insertion of foreign genes in plants that codes medicinally important proteins. It is also known as molecular pharming. This technique is used for the large- scale production of therapeutic proteins. The plants used for Biopharming are called transgenic plants because these plants contain foreign genes in them for expression of desired products. These proteins have very important role in the treatment of the vast variety of diseases. Scientists first select the desired gene of interest and then introduce it into specific plant species by using biotechnological techniques to get their desired product. This technique is still in developmental process. Drugs made through this technique are not approved by any drug authorities like FDA. But scientists are trying serious efforts to approve such drugs by drug testing authorities.
Arabidopsis is a plant most often used as a model organism to study gene expression in plants. Most of the times, corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beet are used in Biopharming. In the USA tobacco, corn and rice are used for this purpose. In Canada different crops are also used up till now. Among them are canola, corn, soybeans and sugar beets. Usually, self-pollinated crops are used in Biopharming because the risk of gene transfer is minimum in self-pollinate crops. Tobacco is often use because it is the non-food crop.
More than 120 products obtained from plants are used by human beings in different aspects. Many of them are obtained from forest trees. Among them are edible vaccines. Examples of edible vaccines include pig vaccines, HIV-suppressing protein in spinach and vaccine against hepatitis B is introduced in potato. Monoclonal antibodies are produced by this technique. These are the antibodies developed by using a single clone of cells and they are the clone of their parent cells. Blood substitutes like hemoglobin can also be produced by using this technique. Proteins against anemia, hepatitis B and C, liver diseases, hemorrhage, hypertension and Gaucher’s disease are produced by the technique. These are not available commercially because these are produced in a very little amount in plants. Scientists are trying to express the desirable amount of the proteins in plants. Genetic engineering corn can produce 1 Kg antibody per acre of land. This is a very minute amount as compared to the drugs obtained in bioreactors by medicinal companies.
Different companies are involved in Biopharming. Some of these are Biolex, Metabolix, Phytomedics and Dow Plant Biopharmaceuticals. These are working on transgenic corn, tobacco, fragrances, and flavors, green tissue plants for fuel generation and on monoclonal antibodies. Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Centre also played a crucial role in the production of these products. Dow Plant Biopharmaceuticals is specialized in the production of antibodies from plants. These products are already produced by pharmaceutical companies. The companies used bacterial, fungal, insect and mammalian cells for the production of such drugs. Some of the drugs produced through these companies are very expensive and are not affordable by poor people. Some of the molecules are very expensive like glucocerebrosidase enzyme. Pharmaceutical companies ruled over the world through their products. Current number of companies that uses Biopharming is increasing day by day with the advancements in science and technology especially in biotechnology.
In molecular pharming one of the biggest challenges is people’s perspective towards genetically modified crops. Due to lack of knowledge, many people think genetically modified plants have a negative impact on human health. These include chances of gene escape through pollens into non-transgenic plants that don’t contain foreign genes. Food may be contaminated by this way due to the mixing of transgenic and non-transgenic plants which may cause allergy among public. Another important issue is their yield which is very low as compared to a total number of plants grown. Some of the molecules produced by this technique are not stable; there is probation of degradation of such substances. Scientists are trying to overcome these hindrances and are trying to produce stable products by this method. In a recent report by Canadian food inspection agency, it is stated that U.S. demand for biotech pharmaceuticals is increasing at 13 percent annually and this puts a lot of burden in the global market to produce such products. Produce capacity is less as compared to current demand. Growing plants for pharmaceuticals has the potential to meet the demand. This will be very beneficial for mankind if such plants successfully produce a large amount of these therapeutic drugs.
Advantages of Biopharming:
This technique wants a lot of money for experimental analysis but once such products are developed it will be easy for ordinary people to consume these. Several other advantages include post-translational modifications. Certain molecules of sugars are added to protein structures that result into proper folding of proteins. Plants are cheaper as compared to animals and easy to grow. Plants are available everywhere, we can grow plants in offices as well. In the case of animals, there are chances of virus transfer into the products obtained from them that may cause contagious diseases in human beings. In Biopharming specific target tissues can be used such as leaves, seeds, and roots for the production of your desired protein product.
Plant molecular farming has the potential to be a major new method for the low-cost huge production of biopharmaceuticals. However, there are many challenges to overcome, that includes strong public opposition and poorly defined regulatory issues and other technical problems.
Umer Nadeem, Ali Raza, Ahtasham-ul-Hassan, Jazib Ali, Saad Ullah.
Students of Biotechnology,
Department of Agricultural Biochemistry and Biotechnology,
University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.