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Molecular farming

This term describes growing and harvesting genetically modified crops, with the object of producing not foodstuffs but pharmaceuticals. The idea is to use such crops as biological factories to generate drugs difficult or expensive to produce in any other way. Genes from other sources, such as microorganisms, are spliced into the plant’s genetic apparatus, its genome. During normal growth these modified plants synthesise useful compounds, which are then extracted from the crop. The technique is already being used to produce vaccines for some animal diseases, such as mink enteritis virus. Many others are at the experimental stage, such as drugs to fight infant diabetes and Crohn’s disease. By one of life’s ironies, tobacco plants are especially suited to this purpose, so one day they may prove to be more valuable as a source of pharmaceuticals than of tobacco. Though the term has been around for a decade in the specialist literature, it is slowly becoming more widely known. A closely related term, pharming, seems more widely used for genetically modified animals than plants.

Comparisons and parallels continue to be drawn between molecular farming and biotechnology, the latter suffering from more bad press and negative perceptions than the former.

London Free Press, Aug. 1999

“Molecular farming” has seen vaccines, mammalian blood constituents, enzymes, antibodies and low calorie sweeteners produced in tobacco leaves.

Guardian, Apr. 2000

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Page created 20 May 2000