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Lloyd Ongpauco Balinado
July 2014

Have you ever been given
a vaccination shot? Did it felt
good? Would you love being
injected with painful syringes
again and again? If you would
not, then you may now
scream a goodbye to tradi-
tional vaccines and be ready
to loudly say hello to needle-
free edible vaccines. Yes, edi-
ble! With genetic engineering,
you could actually get im-
munized by just simply eat-
ing—something that most of
us, if not all, love doing. But
the question here is, ‘how
safe are they?’

What are vaccines?
Vaccine is a biological
preparation that is adminis-
tered to produce or artificially
increase immunity to a par-
ticular disease. It’s like a na-
tional security threat that
makes the armed forces of
our body totally prepared for
a possible terrorist attack
and ready to provide full de-
fense anytime.
A vaccine typically con-
tains an antigen, an agent
that resembles a pathogen,
and is conventionally made
from live attenuated or com-
pletely killed forms of the mi-
crobe. Today, newer ap-
proaches use purified antigen
and recombinant DNA to cre-
ate vaccines.

What is an edible vaccine?
Edible vaccine is an anti-
genic protein that is genet-
ically engineered into a con-
sumable crop. It involves the
introduction of a desired gene
of interest in a plant to man-
ufacture proteins encoding
for the same gene. This is ac-
complished by transfor-
mation, a genetic modification
of plant cell by incorporation
of a transgene taken from an-
other organism. This could be
done through a variety of
techniques including Agro-
bacterium mediated gene
transfer (see Figure 1), biolis-
tic method, or electro-
Production of edible vac-
cines also requires proper
selection of the plant to use.
It should be a plant which
makes products that are raw-
ly consumed to avoid degra-
dation during cooking.

Examples of edible vaccines
Are there really existing
edible vaccines today? Yes!
What was once an imagina-
tion is now definitely a reali-
Would you imagine that
potatoes are actually being
used as vaccine against chol-
era and hepatitis B? How
about rabies infection? Do
you know that it can actually
be prevented by tobacco? And
hey! Are you fond of eating
maize? Have you ever thought
that by just simply eating
your favorite corn, you can
get immunized against gas-
troenteritis caused by corona
Moreover, science and
technology is on its way to
discovering treatment against
AIDS. How fascinating that
tomato is actually currently
being studied for its potential
to prevent the disease?
But wait. How about ba-
nanas? Would you believe
that bananas are the best
choice for edible vaccine?
They are sterile that genes do
not pass from one banana to
another, therefore, prevents
cross-contamination—an is-
sue on edible vaccines. Ba-
nanas are consumed raw,
and if otherwise cooked, pro-
teins are not destroyed. They
are inexpensive, they grow
quickly and they contain high
concentration of Vitamin A
which may boost immune

How does an edible vaccine
Taken orally, an antigen
containing edible vaccine is
not degraded by gastric en-
zymes because of the protec-
tion provided by tough plant
cell wall. The antigen is re-
leased near the Peyer’s
patches of intestine, is taken
up by M-cells, and is passed
to macrophages and B-cells
in the bloodstream. Macro-
phages present pieces of an-
tigen to helper T-cells, which
as a response activate B-cells
to make and release antibod-
ies to neutralize the antigen.
This elicits immunity when
the disease agent appears.
Memory helper T-cells pro-
duce cytotoxic T-cells to at-
tack infected cells, and rapid-
ly stimulate B-cells to secrete
antibodies that will immedi-
ately neutralize the disease
agent. (see Figure 2)
Why go for edible vaccines?
According to WHO, 20
million deaths annually
worldwide is caused by vari-
ous diseases. Mortality rates
are increasing every year de-
spite successful immuniza-
tion programs. Why? Tradi-
tional vaccines are costly. Not
everyone can afford to get
vaccination shots. In addi-
tion, although it rarely hap-
pens, live attenuated forms of
microbes can spring back to
life and become virulent
again. Furthermore, non-
sterilized syringes are in fact
contributing to millions of
death each year.
Can edible vaccines over-
come these problems? Edible
vaccines are cost-effective,
easy-to-administer, easy-to-
store, fail-safe and sociocul-
turally acceptable. They are
produced from plants, hence,
are easily available. Moreover,
edible vaccines are engi-
neered to contain antigen,
but bear no genes that would
enable whole pathogen to
form. They are also needle-
free; thus, do not require ad-
ministration by injection.
Most importantly, edible vac-
cines are affordable. It can
therefore decrease the num-
ber of deaths in the develop-
ing countries.

Safety issues
The main safety issue on
edible vaccines is cross-
contamination. Other crops
could be contaminated
through cross-pollination.
The presence of the vaccine
in plant debris could also be
spread as dust and could pol-
lute land surfaces and
ground waters. It may then
affect animals and humans
dwelling in the area by drink-
ing vaccine polluted water or
breathing vaccine polluted
How is it being ad-
dressed? USDA and FDA reg-
ulate the location and con-
tainment of plant-based
pharmaceuticals. Cultivation
and production of pharma-
ceutical crops should be done
in production facilities like
greenhouses or plant tissue
culture laboratories that pre-
vent environmental release of
More significant challeng-
es are yet to be solved before
edible vaccines can be regis-
tered, marketed and widely
be used. However, while there
are limited accesses to essen-
tial healthcare worldwide and
there are still struggles with
complex diseases, it is better
for now to think that edible
vaccines remain a represen-
tation of an appetizing pro-

Doshi, V., Rawal, H. and
Mukherjee, S. 2013. Edi-
ble vaccines from GM
crops: Current status and
future scope. Journal of
Pharmacetical and Scien-
tific Innovation, v. 2, p. 1-
6, doi: 10.7897/2277-
Mishra, N., Gupta, P., Khatri,
K., Goyal, A. and Vyas, S.
2008. Edible vaccines: A
new approach to oral im-
munization. Indian Jour-
nal of Biotechnology, v. 7,
p. 283-294
Langridge, W. 2000. Edible
vaccines. Scientific Amer-
ican, v. 283, p. 66-71
Shah, C., Trivedi, M.,
Vachhani, U. and Joshi,
V. 2011. Edible vaccine: A
better way for immuniza-
tion. International Jour-
nal of Current Pharma-
ceutical Research, v. 3, p.

Figure 1. How to make an edible vaccine using Agrobacterium mediated gene transfer.

Figure 2. Mode of action of an edible vaccine.