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Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK


GM plants to produce medicinal honey

Honey bee could help with vaccination programmes

A spoonful of honey could one day replace bitter pills or painful injections. Scientists in Holland are using the nectar of genetically modified plants to produce honey containing drugs and vaccines.

It follows the discovery that proteins in the nectar pass straight into the honey without being digested by the bee.

Researchers at the Centre for Plant Breeding and Reproduction Research in Wageningen made the find after anti-fungal proteins from common heather showed up in commercial brands of honey.

When the scientists tried feeding bees a sugar solution laced with a protein called bovine serum albumin the protein not only appeared in the honey unaltered, it was twice as concentrated.

GM plants cure dogs

By manipulating a plant's DNA, the scientists have been able to add genes for various drugs, in such a way that the drugs are secreted in the plant's nectar.

They are currently genetically engineering petunias so they yield a vaccine against a dog disease caused parvovirus.

It is hoped that bees will produce a vaccine-rich honey from the plants' nectar. "The dogs would either eat the honey as an oral vaccine, or the vaccine would be purified and injected," says biologist Tineke Creemers in New Scientist magazine.

Honey preserves proteins

The modified plants are being grown in sealed greenhouses to minimise the chances of the vaccine gene being spread by pollen. Bumblebees are being used for the experiments because they are easier to manage in a contained environment.

The researchers are also investigating whether the sugars in honey preserve the proteins, which would otherwise need refrigerating. If so, honey could be used for vaccination programmes in tropical countries where there is a shortage of cooling equipment.

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New Scientist

Texas A&M University Dept of Entomology

Centre for Plant Breeding, Wageningen

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