BSAS/WPSA – A leading plant scientist has outlined to a meeting of animal scientists how advanced plant breeding techniques have the potential to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems – including the prevention and treatment of human and farm animal diseases and more sustainable food production.
Plant biologists have tended to follow rather than lead scientists in other fields, according to Professor Maurice Moloney, Director and CEO of Rothamsted Research in the UK.
He was presenting the Hammond Memorial Lecture at the joint meeting of the British Society of Animal Production (BSAS) and UK branch of the World’s Poultry Science Association (WPSA) at the University of Nottingham yesterday, 17 April.
Professor Moloney said that, after ‘removing’ the genes for photosynthesis, 60 per cent of the plant genome is common with that of the humans – a greater degree of commonality than many would expect.
While there was, rightly, huge global interest in the publication of the human genome in 2001, that of a little plant had been published the previous year, he said. It was for Arabidopsis thaliana, which is widely used in research. While its genome is relatively small, it was almost as complex as an animal’s.
Plant scientists aimed to make plant genomes more ‘animal’, he said, citing a number of examples of success.
Among the first was the re-creation using biotechnology in plants to produce hirudin, a chemical secreted by leeches to prevent blood clotting for medical use.
Plants have also been used as sources of therapeutic antibodies and an insulin precursor. The required gene was inserted into Arabidopsis plant and then successfully grown in the safflower.
The plant-derived insulin was found to match commercially available human insulin products in in-vivo, in-vitro and clinical trials and offers the potential to provide an inexpensive yet effective therapy for diabetes sufferers across the world.
The technology has also been applied successfully to provide treatments for rare diseases that are not a high priority for the large pharmaceutical companies, on the grounds that the cost of development of new drugs may not be recouped if there are few patients. One such example is an enzyme “grown” in carrots and used to treat Gaucher’s disease.
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