Your mother (we hope) told you to eat your vegetables, but someday soon security moms may be nagging their little ones to eat their petunias. That's the hope, at least, of Philadelphia-based INB Biotechnologies, which has been experimenting with petunias to develop a nontoxic anthrax vaccine. In conjunction with the Navy and pending FDA approval, it will test the vaccine on 30 Navy volunteers next June. The rush to study plant-based vaccines, which are cheaper and could also be used in Third World countries to prevent plague and cholera, comes just as U.S. vaccine readiness is tested with the flu debacle, complaints that Homeland Security's Bioshield program is ineffective and reports of a dubious anthrax vaccine tested on the military during the gulf war. "We could potentially immunize large groups without injections," says INB's Orn Adalsteinsson. "Plants are very compatible with humans." Scientists inject a genetically modified virus into a plant, which causes the plant to make new proteins. When that plant is eaten, the body reacts to the new proteins as if infected, and makes new antibodies. Because oral vaccines can be self-administered, large groups can be treated quickly in the event of a bioterror attack. And what kid wouldn't want a petunia over a needle?
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