By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
On November 30, 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) announced that its scientists have determined that plants could be used to produce nanobodies that quickly block emerging pathogens in human medicine and agriculture. The nanobodies are small antibody proteins naturally produced in specific animals like camels, alpacas, and llamas. ARS researchers evaluated nanobodies to prevent and treat citrus greening disease in citrus trees. The scientists are now using their newly developed and patented SymbiontTM technology to show that nanobodies can be easily produced in a plant system with broad agricultural and public health applications. According to ARS, as a proof-of-concept, researchers showed that nanobodies targeting the SARS-CoV-2 virus could be made in plant cells and remain functional in blocking the binding of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to its receptor protein: the process responsible for initiating viral infection in human cells.
AgroSource, Inc. collaborated with ARS to develop the plant-based production system. According to ARS, they are currently taking the necessary steps to see how they can move this advancement into the commercial sector. ARS notes that this research collaboration is in response to the White House’s Executive Order on advancing biotechnology and biomanufacturing innovation for a sustainable, safe, and secure American bioeconomy.