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Anti-tumour antibody successfully produced in tobacco plants

Tobacco plants have been successfully engineered to produce an anti-tumour antibody, paving the way for the large-scale production of antibodies in crop plants.


The molecular farming of crops that have been genetically engineered to produce high value products such as pharmaceuticals is predicted to become a reality within the next ten years. An important step in achieving that goal has now been realised with the successful production of an anti-tumour antibody in tobacco plants. In order to genetically engineer the plant to produce antibodies, an innovative system was developed which used the bacterium Agrobacterium as a vector for carrying foreign DNA into plants. This enabled the different genes required to produce the full-size antibody to be introduced into tobacco leaves. The functional antibody was then purified from tobacco leaf extracts and characterised using molecular techniques, in order to evaluate its performance. A combination of mouse and human antibody genes were used to produce an antibody which specifically recognises the carcino embryonic tumour antigen (CEA), a molecule that can be used as a marker for certain tumours. Such antibodies can be used to monitor the course of cancer and molecular farming would enable therapeutic antibodies to be produced on an industrial scale.

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