Scientists Make Flu Shots in Tobacco Plants: No More Egg Allergies?


Home / Scientists Make Flu Shots in Tobacco Plants: No More Egg Allergies?

Chicken Eggs and Vaccines

This method takes millions of chicken eggs and can be a very lengthy process. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the process of creating the seasonal flu vaccine starts in January for release in September – that’s a long time!

Plant-based Vaccines: Positives

Plant-based vaccines are cost effective; building greenhouses are cheaper than building a sterilized facilities, manufacturing technology, and the cost of steel tanks that are necessary for the cell cultures. The other money-saving aspect of plant-based vaccines is a cheaper purification process. In plant-based vaccines, the purification process is simpler because there aren’t any infectious agents to ‘clean up.’ There are also no viruses in plants that can infect humans.

The influenza plant-based vaccine isn’t the first of its kind – in 2009 Dr. Charles Arntzen worked to develop a plant-based norovirus vaccine. Decoded Science had the opportunity to interview Dr. Charles Arntzen why tobacco plants were used, and whether other plants might also work. Dr. Arntzen responded,

“Tobacco produces a lot of biomass and grows quickly. It does not seem to attract the ire of anti-GMO foods groups. And, the plant has many viruses which are being used as molecular tools to cause the tobacco leaves to produce desired antigens (active vaccine ingredients). This is a very fast moving field. A conference in Italy last week described a huge amount of ongoing vaccine and therapeutic development.”

In fact there are other plant-based vaccines that scientists are developing right now, such as: Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma vaccine, rabies, rotavirus, and pandemic influenza.

Plants and Vaccines

Vaccines that are made from tobacco plants are faster; Dr. Arntzen says that clinical tests can be done in eight to ten weeks and for commercial use, it could take just two to four months. This is a sharp difference than using the traditional method where the development for the flu shot begins in January and isn’t ready until September.


ABC 30. Smokin’ Flu Vaccine! Medicine’s Next Big Thing! (2013). Accessed June 12, 2013.

ICON Genetics. ICONs Product Pipeline 2010 -2017. Accessed June 19, 2013.

Medicago Inc. How does it work? Accessed June 12, 2013.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Influenza. (2011). Accessed June 11, 2013.

The College of the Physicians of Philadelphia. The History of Vaccines. Accessed June 12, 2013.

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