The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 57: 587 - 593 (2013)

Vol 57, Issue 6-7-8

Special Issue: Plant Transgenesis

Role of plant expression systems in antibody production for passive immunization

Published: 9 October 2013

Vikram Virdi and Ann Depicker*

Department of Plant Systems Biology, VIB, and Department of Plant Biotechnology and Bioinformatics, Ghent University, Gent, Belgium


Passive immunization is a method to achieve immediate protection against infectious agents by administering pathogen-specific antibodies. It has proven to be lifesaving for many acute infections, and it is now also used for cancer treatment. Passive immunization therapies, however, are extremely expensive because they require large amounts of specific antibodies that are produced predominantly in mammalian expression systems. The cost for manufacturing plant-made antibodies is estimated to be comparatively low since plant production systems require relatively less capital investments. In addition, they are not prone to mammalian pathogens, which also eases downstream processing along with making it a safe expression system. Moreover, some of the recent developments in transient expression have enabled rapid, cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) compliant manufacturing of antibodies. Whether lower production costs will be reflected in a lower market price for purified antibodies will be known when more plant-produced antibodies come to the market. Promisingly, the current mo-lecular techniques in the field of in planta expression have enabled high-level production of a variety of antibodies in different plant organs, like roots/tubers/fruits, leaves and seeds, of a va-riety of plants, like potato, tobacco, maize, rice, tomato and pea, providing a very wide range of possible plant-based passive immunization therapies. For instance, the production of antibodies in edible tissues would allow for a unique, convenient, needle-less, oral passive immunization at the gastric mucosal surface. The technological advances, together with the innate capacity of plant tissues to assemble complex antibodies, will enable carving a niche in the antibody market. This non-exhaustive review aims to shed light on the role of plants as a flexible expression system for passive immunotherapy, which we envisage to progress alongside the conventional production platforms to manufacture specialized antibodies.


molecular farming, in leaf production, in seed production, plantibodies, disruptive technology

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