Plants now have the potential to manufacture vaccines. As reported by the Genetic Literacy Project, Prof George Lomonosoff at the John Innes Centre has found a way to hijack tobacco and turn its leaves into factories to produce polio-vaccines and this technology has the potential to be used to make vaccines for other viruses too. But is this a good thing?

It may mean an end to the use of potentially toxic substances such as mercury and aluminium in vaccines, which are currently used in some vaccines delivered by needle. However, the idea of genetically engineering a vaccine into our food will still be of concern to many anti-vaxxers, many of who are also against genetic modification of food. They believe the body’s immune system, properly primed through nutrition and environment, is the best defense against disease, and the new discoveries of how the human gut microbiome functions supports such a concept.

Scientists would argue that our food has been ‘artificially’ engineered for millennia, by the selection of beneficial traits through breeding, and that fruit and vegetables found in supermarkets today look very different to how the food would have looked decades or centuries ago.

Most consumers don’t understand genetics or the conventional breeding techniques that have been delivering us new and improved foods for centuries. A recent university survey found 80 percent of those surveyed wanted any DNA present in foods to be the subject of mandatory labeling, perhaps unaware that all food that has come from living things – such as fruit and vegetables, grains, meat and dairy, contains DNA.

Plants are now considered to be the new biofactories and scientists are looking at boosting their beneficial nutritional content and their medicinal content.

But the concept remains difficult to swallow for those who believe our food is being tampered with at the most fundamental level, and poisoned with pesticides like glysophate. Food is an intimate part of our life, culture and being. Putting anything into our body should require our consent, which is why there is a growing backlash to GMOs and the mandating of ever-increasing numbers of vaccines.

I believe there is much both sides of the genetic debate can, and should, be learning from each other. Both viewpoints have validity and should be treated with respect.

– Greta Puls

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