Scientists systematically summarize the application and development prospects of plant molecular farms

The process of molecular farm production in rice endosperm through genetic engineering. Courtesy of the research team

Recently, Zhu Qintaki, a researcher at the College of Life Sciences of South China Agricultural University and the Guangdong Provincial Laboratory of Modern Agricultural Science and Technology in Lingnan, and Academician Liu Yaoguang systematically summarized the advantages and disadvantages of rice endosperm as a bioreactor, put forward new insights on the concept of molecular farms, discussed how to improve the target product content and the challenges it faced, and looked forward to the future development direction of plant molecular farms represented by rice endosperm. The related review article was published online in Trends in Biotechnology.

Plant expression systems are low cost, scalable, safe and environmentally friendly. Traditional molecular farms use conventional genetic engineering methods to produce a variety of important biomedical target products in plant bioreactors. Because unlike general protein drugs produced from microorganisms or animal cells, medical proteins produced by molecular farms do not have safety concerns such as human pathogens or microbial toxins.

The traditional concept of plant molecular farms (using conventional genetic engineering methods to express a small number of genes, mainly used to produce medical proteins, etc.) is obviously no longer able to meet the current development needs. To this end, this review proposes a new insight into the concept of molecular farms, extends it from the production of medical target products to the development of functional crops with important nutrients and bioactive substances, and systematically summarizes the application and future development direction of rice endosperm as a reactor in molecular farms.

Rice endosperm is an ideal bioreactor, and has been widely used in molecular agricultural production of recombinant medical protein polypeptides and bioactive substances, such as antigens and vaccines/oral vaccines, antibodies, medicinal proteins and polypeptides, vitamins and minerals, flavonoids, anthocyanins and polyphenols, and carotenoids because of its rich genetic and bioinformatic resources, the ability to express complex proteins, the ease of extracting and processing target products, low production costs and fewer biological safety hazards.

Based on the current status of molecular farms, this review proposes strategies to enhance the biosynthetic yield of rice endosperm, points out the challenges faced by rice endosperm as a molecular farm, and summarizes some corresponding solutions. Finally, the authors propose that in the future, by adjusting laws and regulations and promoting multidisciplinary cooperation, large-scale production will be improved, and more valuable biological products will be provided with rice endosperm, such as CoVLP, an adjuvant plant-derived vaccine coVLP that can be used at low cost and on a large scale.

It is understood that researcher Zhu Qintaki is the first author and corresponding author of the paper; Academician Liu Yaoguang directed the writing of the paper; and postdoctoral Fellow Tan Jiantao participated in the writing of the paper as a co-author. The work has been funded by the Guangdong Provincial Basic and Applied Basic Research Major Project, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Lingnan Key Laboratory of Modern Agriculture Project and the Guangdong Special Branch Program for Young Talents in Scientific and Technological Innovation. (Source: China Science Daily Zhu Hanbin)

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