Human Genomics in Global Health

Global applications of genomics in healthcare: USA

Oral immunization with plants

Setting: research institute

Focus of intervention: patients and families/community


For many countries in the world, vaccines are an expensive component of disease prevention, thus making it inaccessible to many. Moreover, the requirement of many vaccines to be refrigerated places a burden on communities which lack sufficient resources to maintain these drugs in their appropriate environments. In order to address this need, scientists are turning towards plants to see if they can be vaccine vectors.


With the help of DNA and transgenes, scientists have been studying plant vaccines, which can produce surface antigens required to stimulate immunity in individuals who consume these plants. For examples, studies have been conducted on mice that eat transgenic potato tubers, which have been manipulated to express the hepatitis B antigen. Moreover, trials on humans have also been conducted in immunizing humans against diarrhea caused by the E. coli bacterium.


The results from the studies have been positive. The mice that were orally immunized to hepatitis B showed a strong response to the reintroduction of the hepatitis antigen after the immunization, while the control group did not show such changes. In human trials, over 90% of individuals immunized with transgenic potatoes showed increase in antibody activity without serious side effects. These new types of edible vaccines may be a crucial resource in various countries, and other edible vaccines (tomatoes, bananas, etc.) are currently being developed to battle the Norwalk virus, cholera, measles, and various other diseases.