Scientists in Texas have developed a way of producing recombinant proteins in sugarcane that they claim will be safe and less expensive than other transgenic approaches.
There has been a great deal of interest in using genetically-modified organisms to produce proteins for use in the pharmaceutical, food and paper-processing industries. However, the industry as a whole suffered a knockback when one of the pioneers of this effort, the UK's PPL, was forced to rein in its transgenics programme earlier this month .
The scientists, from Texas A&M University, believe that a plant-based production system has advantages over the use of transgenic animals.
"By producing these recombinant proteins in sugarcane plants, we reduce the cost of production, increase the world's capacity to produce these proteins and we virtually eliminate the danger of transmitting pathogens from animals to humans," said Dr Erik Mirkov, a virologist and molecular biologist at Texas A&M's Agricultural Research and Extension Centre at Weslaco.
Mirkov and Texas A&M currently have seven patents, either issued or pending, for processes involved in using sugarcane as a 'bio-factory' for recombinant proteins, and have licensed rights to proCANE, a subsidiary of ECOR Corp.
proCANE is hoping to brings its first protein products to market within the next four years, according to chief operating officer Joseph Jilka. For the moment, however, its energies are devoted to raising funds and assembling an in-house R&D team to work alongside Mirkov and his colleagues at Texas A&M.
Other companies looking at producing proteins in plants include ProdiGene (using maize) and Biolex (Lemna).