Flu shots from caterpillars

posted in: Science | 0

Genetic engineering at its best! An article from the Discovery Channel describes a promising new method of producing vaccines.

Fall army worms are a pest of many plants, including maize and grass.

The current method takes about nine months each year. It relies on hens laying millions of eggs. Live flu viruses injected into the eggs multiply, then the eggshells are broken, the viruses are inactivated and are treated to create vaccine. The experimental method uses fall army worms, abundant caterpillars that are vulnerable to a bug virus. Scientists replace a gene from that virus with a flu virus gene, then inject it into the worm, where it makes more flu virus.

Benefits include faster vaccine production, eliminating the need for live virus, and eliminating the need for all those eggs. Plus, people who are allergic to eggs would be able to take this vaccine (there is no mention of allergies to caterpillars).

PS: I love Discovery’s technical term “bug virus.” Caterpillars aren’t bugs.

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Anastasia is Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes!