Engineered rice makes anti-HIV extract

(Credit: Evangelia Vamvaka)

Extracts from transgenic rice plants could help stop the spread of HIV, according to new research.

Researchers successfully developed a transgenic rice plant that expresses three different proteins that can stop human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from entering human cells. The finding could lead to a less costly, easier way of producing prophylactics that could stop the spread of HIV, particularly in the developing world.

The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists previously had shown that expressing anti-HIV proteins in plants was possible, though refining those proteins into a form that could be useful to prevent the spread of the virus often proved prohibitively expensive.

Expressing the proteins in rice could be a more cost-effective alternative, says Raziel Antonio-Ordonez, a postdoctoral researcher in agronomy at Iowa State University. Extracts from such a rice plant could produce a topical antimicrobial gel that can be applied before intercourse to prevent sexual transmission of HIV.

Evangelia Vamvaka, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the research team, laid the foundation for the project as a PhD student when she proved that rice seeds could produce a single anti-HIV protein.

“Plants offer an affordable and scalable alternative production platform,” Vamvaka says. “We have shown that we can now produce multiple components in a single plant.”

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There are 1.8 million new HIV infections worldwide every year, most occurring in Africa. Antimicrobial gels might present a valuable tool in the developing world where people have difficulty accessing HIV treatments and barrier methods, such as condoms. Vamvaka says men in regions with high HIV infection rates sometimes are reluctant to use condoms, but the availability of an antimicrobial gel would empower women to protect themselves.

The research team also included scientists from the Universitat de Lleida-Agrotecnio Center in Spain; the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute, Spain; the National Cancer Institute; Imperial College in London; and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies.

Source: Iowa State University