Enhanced Research Capacity (Theme 4)

We develop technologies to facilitate our research and to accelerate its translation into new processes and products of value to humankind.

In particular, we are enhancing and further developing our capacity to produce large amounts of valuable proteins and products very rapidly in the leaves of tobacco plants (Nicotiana benthamiana). This “transient expression” system has many uses in our research, and great potential as a new manufacturing process.

One major use is in the manufacture of vaccines. The transient expression system can rapidly produce proteins that are derived from disease-causing viruses, but are themselves harmless.

When introduced into mammals and humans, these plant-produced proteins induce the production of antibodies which provide immunity against the virus from which they were derived. We and others have already shown that the system can be used to produce vaccines against bluetongue, seasonal and bird flu, and polio.

A second use is for the synthesis of potentially valuable but scarce natural products. The transient expression system can enable the reconstitution in tobacco leaves of biochemical pathways from other plants, resulting in the accumulation of natural products not normally present in tobacco. This system allows natural products that are found in very small amounts in other species to be generated in large amounts, facilitating evaluation of their potential as therapeutics, industrial raw materials etc.

Research in Theme 4 makes use of the new, large-scale facility for transient expression housed at Leaf Expression Systems on the Norwich Research Park.