Killer tomatoes to attack Hep-B and HIV!

Despite all the concerns about Franken-foods, research into genetically modified crops marches on. Scientists now believe they've developed a tomato that battles two of the world's deadliest viruses.

Laboratories are littered with failed attempts to create vaccine for HIV and the vaccine for hepatitis B virus is prohibitively expensive for poorer nations.

Using the soil bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens, Rurik Salyaev at the Siberian Institute of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry wove synthetic DNA fragments from HIV and HBV - HBV surface antigen - into tomato plants, reports "New Scientist."

The plants then act as vaccine factories, producing delicious tomatoes rich in virus protein. When the tomatoes are eaten, the presence of the proteins tells the body to start producing antibodies to combat the viruses.

So far, Salyaev has seen high levels of antibodies in the blood of mice being fed a powdered form or the tomatoes. Better still, the antibodies were present on the surface of mucous membranes, where these diseases are often sexually transmitted.

"That's where you want it to be protective," says Rose Hammond of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland, which is collaborating with Salyaev's team.

If the vaccines are found to work in humans, they could be given in pill form. Managing your dosage from eating tomatoes would be tricky and expensive.

"You wouldn't have to refrigerate the vaccine, and you wouldn't need to inject it with needles, which pose an infection risk," says Hammond. These would be big advantages in poorer countries. "If an oral vaccine worked out, it would probably be inexpensive and relatively easy to make and administer," says Pat Fast, at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative in New York.

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