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Vaccination by Banana New Scientist 96

BANANAS, genetically engineered to carry vaccines, could provide developing countries with a cheap way to protect children from life-threatening diseases, according to researchers in the US. Biotechnologists at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research an independent research centre at Cornell University in New York State, are genetically engineering a banana to produce an antigen found in the outer coat of the hepatitis B virus. Banana vaccines would be ideal for developing countries because they would cost just a few cents per dose, compared 10 the $100 to $200 per dose for traditional vaccines, says Charles Arntzen, president of the institute.

Last year, the team showed that hepatitis B antigens produced by genetically engineered potatoes triggered an immune response in rats. But because potatoes are not eaten raw, and cooking them would destroy the vaccine, tiley are unsuitable for vaccinating people. So the researchers switched their efforts to bananas, which are already grown. The crops could be grown on speical plantations.

For example,just 10 hectares of the fruit would be enough to vaccinate all children under five years old in Mexico. They have already developed potatoes to produce antigens to Escherichia coli and the Norwalk virus causes of diahorrea and hope to develop vaccines against measles, yellow fever, diptheria and polio.