tocacco plant Native American Tobaccoo flower, leaves, and buds

tocacco Tobacco is an annual or bi-annual growing 1-3 meters tall with large sticky leaves that contain nicotine. Native to the Americas, tobacco has a long history of use as a shamanic inebriant and stimulant. It is extremely popular and well-known for its addictive potential.

tocacco nicotina Nicotiana tabacum

tocacco Nicotiana rustica leaves. Nicotiana rustica leaves have a nicotine content as high as 9%, whereas Nicotiana tabacum (common tobacco) leaves contain about 1 to 3%

tocacco cigar A cigar is a tightly rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Sumatra, Philippines, and the Eastern United States.

tocacco Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the fresh leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as an organic pesticide, and in the form of nicotine tartrate it is used in some medicines. In consumption it may be in the form of cigarettes smoking, snuffing, chewing, dipping tobacco, or snus.

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HOW many people know that most of the vaccine production facilities in the world reside in the developed countries? And do you know that even if the full vaccine production capacity in the West is deployed, the amount produced is not sufficient to cater to the demand there. Never mind supplying to the rest of the world.
This fact was revealed in a recent meeting I had with an expert in vaccine from Malaysia’s medical fraternity. This also came to light with the current outbreak of Influenza A.

The latest we hear is that a vaccine can only be available at the earliest in September. Even when a vaccine is found, there is insufficient production capacity to supply everyone. There will not be enough vaccine to go around.

On top of that I have also been told that pharmaceutical companies in the West do not invest enough in vaccine development for diseases which are confined only to the tropical region. Apparently it does not make good business sense. So it is up to countries of the region to develop such vaccines and other therapeutic drugs.

Building and investing in the traditional vaccine production facilities is not cheap. This explains why many among the developing countries hesitate to invest. However, in recent years new technologies are being developed where vaccines can also be produced from plants. This has been shown to bring down the cost considerably.
Among the plants that have been the subject of much research is tobacco. And the reason why scientists have chosen tobacco is because the plant is among the simplest when it comes to genetic modification.

Lately, there have been reports of promising breakthroughs in the field. In view of the fact that the Malaysia’s tobacco growing industry is also looking for new opportunities to sustain the business with the advent of AFTA and the new competition from Indonesia and Thailand, growing tobacco to produce vaccines suitable for the tropical diseases should be an option worth considering.

In a recent article by Ms Monika Weiner of Germany’s Fraunhofer organisation, it was reported that scientists at the Fraunhofer’s Centre for Molecular Biotechnology (CMB) based in Newark, United States, are using plants to obtain an active agent that not only provides protection against human papilloma viruses, but can also be used to treat the cancerous tumours caused by these viruses.

It is the only cancer that is clearly associated with virus infections. And the fact is nearly everybody comes into contact with human papilloma viruses at least once in their lifetime. Once infected, people carry the viruses for months, years, or even decades. Most people never even notice the infection. However, if the immune system is weakened, for example through illness, the virus-infected cells may get out of control and begin to proliferate. Tumours are the result.

According to scientists, most of the 150 different virus types only produce harmless warts, but a small number can be dangerous. These are usually transferred by sexual contact. Cervical cancer is the most common type.

In the EU alone, it has been reported that over ten thousand patients a year develop tumours caused by human papilloma viruses. On a global scale the number can run into millions. It is therefore a challenge for scientists to develop vaccines and therapeutics.

Two types of vaccines have already been marketed However, there is yet no remedy that can destroy the tumours.

This is what scientists at the Fraunhofer centre in Newark are working on. They work with proteins that are innocuous for the human body, yet similar to the carcinogenic proteins formed by infected cells.

When infected with such modified proteins, the body produces antibodies as a defence mechanism which kill such proteins. If infection occurs at some later time, the antibodies will recognise and destroy the carcinogenic proteins. Such defense mechanism they claim make it suitable for vaccinations.

The scientists want to use molecular farming to produce large quantities of the proteins and do not need genetically modified plants. They work with normal unmodified tobacco seedlings which are deliberately infected with plant viruses that are harmless to humans. The plants that will produce the active agents are then cultivated in a greenhouse.

That is how the tobacco plants become drug factories. The plant viruses used have been genetically modified to produce the new active agent against human papilloma viruses. The is done by inserting a fragment of the papilloma virus genome into the plant virus. The plant virus was then replicated and collected in an aqueous medium.

The next step is to infect the tobacco plants. This is done by suspending the tiny plants upside down in the solution, then the pressure is reduced. The reduced pressure will set air bubbles out of the leaves, allowing the solution containing the viruses to infiltrate them. In a few minutes, the process is completed and the tobacco plants can be put back into the greenhouse. The desired proteins will now grow in the leaves. After a week, the leaves are ready to be harvested and the active ingredients extracted out.

The new vaccine has already proven effective in animal experiments. They are now preparing for the clinical trials when they need larger quantities of the vaccine. There is no doubt that molecular farming is a production technology that holds tremendous promise for the future. Together with an industrial partner, they now plan to set up a molecular farming centre for pre-clinical and clinical trials that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the US.

If Malaysia wants to venture into vaccine production as a means to participate in the expanding global business for new proteins and therapeutic medicine, we should seriously consider investing in molecular farming. And what better way to do this than to do it using tobacco plants.

In this way, Malaysia will not only create a new economic growth potential but also put to rest the worry and concern of the tobacco growing society in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

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