An NPR report has revealed that two North American biotech firms have been using a tobacco strain called Nicotiana benthamiana as biofactories to develop a key protein from the SARS-CoV-2 for the vaccine. This tobacco strain is used as a key element in the development of the COVID19 vaccine. Although the tobacco plant has been popular for its use in spiritual ceremonies and medical practices in the past, however, in recent years it has brought a bad name to it due to the rising use of a tobacco strain called Nicotiana tabacum for making cigarettes. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that this particular tobacco strain is the reason behind 480000 deaths in a year in the US. Now, these North American firms have brought the tobacco plant into the positive limelight once again.
Two biotech companies Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP) and Medicago have started the use of tobacco strain in the making of the COVID19 vaccine. These firms are based in Canada. The CDC has said that a vaccine imitates like an infection, which persuades the immune system that it has been infected with a virus; this process prompts the immune system to produce antibodies and T lymphocytes. The firms are working on the same approach. According to the report, experts have harvested tobacco plants in the greenhouse for 25 days. Later they have infected these plants with microorganisms called agrobacteria. This bacteria has been changed to contain the instruction for making a protein out of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Experts have said that after seven days of the infection in the plants, they undergo a purification process, so by the end of the day, they get 99.9 percent pure protein.
This protein can be given to humans as a vaccine, which is supposed to trigger an immune response. Experts have said that it does look like a virus and triggers an immune response; however, it does not have a genetic material inside. Medicago has already started the human trial of this vaccine. KBP has said that this vaccine can be stored at room temperature unlike typical vaccines, which need refrigeration. The company has said that it has more advantages as compared to other vaccines.