In planta produced BPV VLPs

Figure 1 (left): Transmission Electron Microscopy image of empty non-infectious Bovine papillomavirus virus-like particles produced at the James Hutton Institute using plant expression systems.

Plant-based technologies for human and animal health

The use of plants as bioreactors for synthesising functional proteins which can be readily extracted to high purity opens up new opportunities for the production of pharmaceutical proteins.

The production of large amounts of pure, properly folded, biologically active proteins is essential for the development of vaccines and diagnostic tools. Recombinant proteins for these purposes are currently produced using conventional prokaryotic (for example, E. coli) or eukaryotic expression (for example, yeast, insect cell and Chinese hamster ovary) systems. However, there are caveats associated with these protein expression platforms.

Prokaryotes do not perform the same types of post translational modification as the eukaryotic expression systems, and moreover they may not conduct proper folding of the expressed proteins of interest. This can affect a protein’s activity, stability and response to antibodies, which therefore restricts its potential utility in pharmaceutical applications.

With regard to conventional eukaryotic expression systems, while they may produce functional proteins of interest, they are often expensive and time-consuming. In comparison to these platforms, the plant based-production of proteins offers the prospect of greater safety, increased scalability, simpler and faster and cheaper production of appropriately folded and functional proteins suitable for pharmaceutical uses.

In the last few years substantial evidence has accumulated that plant-derived vaccines are more economically and therapeutically advantageous than their traditional counterparts.

DEFRA grant: The development of diagnostic tools and vaccines to control sheep scab

Sheep scab is a notifiable disease which seriously affects the welfare of sheep and is a widespread problem in the UK. A new grant has been awarded by the Moredun Research Institute (MRI) to develop novel strategies to control sheep scab using immunological approaches and the development of diagnostic tools. The James Hutton Institute team has joined MRI as a sub-contractor to ensure the sufficient production of recombinant proteins in plants for both diagnostic and vaccine purposes.

Staff involved in plant-based technologies for human and animal health: Michael Taliansky, Andrew LoveSue Jones.

Plants and plant viruses as platforms for the synthesis of nanoparticles and nanomaterials

Figure 2: Examples of nanomaterials produced at the James Hutton Institute viewed using Transmission Electron Microscopy

Figure 2: Examples of nanomaterials produced at the James Hutton Institute viewed using Transmission Electron Microscopy. Left, metallised Tobacco mosaic virus networks; middle, Tobacco mosaic virus particles with gold wire in central channel; right spherical gold nanoparticles synthesised using plant extracts and viruses.

Materials at the nanoscale (which have at least one dimension in the range of 1-100 nm) have unusual but highly desirable electrical, mechanical, magnetic, thermal, dielectric, optical and catalytic properties. Such characteristics have led to their increasing and considerable use by the electronics, computing, communications, materials science, transport and energy-based sectors of the economy, as well as by the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.

At the James Hutton Institute we have been utilising plants and plant viruses (rod-shaped, icosahedral and filamentous types) for the low cost, “green” and safe production of a variety of nanomaterials, which may have utility in a broad variety of applications and economic sectors.

Plant viruses (which are nanoscale) are of great benefit to the nanomaterial synthesis process since they can be rendered safe and non-infectious, have surface exposed functional groups which can be exploited for the deposition of specific metals or minerals, and they can be mass produced. The deposition and coating of materials onto the surface of viruses and their non-infectious counterparts, which have precisely defined nanoscale dimensions, allows production of nanoparticles which have lower batch to batch variation than those traditionally produced using physical and chemical processes.

In addition to using non-infectious plant virus derived structures for material deposition, we have also used them to improve the “green” synthesis of metal nanoparticles in reactions consisting of metal salts and plant extracts. Plant extracts contain various chemicals which can reduce the metal salts into metal nanoparticles; addition of plant viruses increases nanoparticle formation in these reactions.

Genomia grant: Novel platform technology for green biosynthesis of nanoparticles

This grant allows us to refine our technology for commercialisation and enhance our Intellectual Property.

SPARK award: Next generation nanomaterials and nanodevices

This grant is jointly awarded to our team at The James Hutton Institute and that of our industrial partner, Cellucomp. The main objective is to utilise cellulose and non-infectious plant viruses for the production of new nanocomposite materials and for the future design of new nanodevices.

Staff involved in nanomaterial research: Michael Taliansky, Andrew Love, Sean Chapman, Kara McGeachy.