Monday, April 06, 2009

Putting a Killer Crop into Healthy Use: Interleukin-10 from GM Tobacco

When you think of tobacco, what's the first thing that comes to mind? You won't think of health benefits, of course. Tobacco use has been associated with numerous diseases, including certain forms of cancer, bronchitis, emphysema and cardiovascular illnesses. But that's about to change. Scientists at the University of Verona, led by Mario Pezzotti, have developed transgenic tobacco plants accumulating high levels of interleukin 10 (IL10). IL10 is a regulatory cytokine (signaling protein) that plays a central role in mediating immune responses.
Oral administration of IL10 can prevent the onset of several autoimmune diseases. IL10 also has the potential to treat numerous human diseases such as type-1 diabetes and many types of cancer.

The transgenic tobacco plants were able to produce the correct, pharmaceutically active form of IL10. The compound was produced in high levels (up to 37 microg/g fresh leaf), making it possible to use tobacco leaves without the costly and tedious extraction and purification processes. The IL10 gene was specifically expressed in the endoplasmic reticulum of plant cells. The scientists will next test the effectivity of the tobacco-derived IL10 by feeding it to mice with autoimmune diseases.

The paper published by BMC Biotechnology is available at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6750/9/22/abstract

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