Plants can be used as a production platform for high-value products such as vaccines, enzymes and metabolites, thereby providing a potentially fast and cost-effective alternative to other cell culture techniques. Developed within the Lomonossoff group, HyperTrans (HT) is a technology for rapid, high-level transient expression of proteins in plants. One key application of HT in the Lomonossoff group has been the production of virus-like particles for use as vaccines, scaffolds for nanotechnology and in fundamental research of virus assembly.
Virus-like particles (VLPs) consist of viral structural proteins which assemble into a particle resembling the virus but devoid of the viral genome and therefore unable to replicate. Different VLPs consisting of multiple copies of one, two or four different structural proteins have been successfully produced using the HT system and shown to be morphologically and immunologically representative of the virus. In recent years, a number of emerging diseases have been caused by enveloped viruses such as Zika virus and Chikungunya virus. Such complex virus structures can make the development of efficient vaccines and diagnostic reagents difficult and costly. In my OpenPlant project, we are working on developing strategies for the production of enveloped VLPs in plants. I am also working on modifying a large non-enveloped VLP to allow accommodation of cargo proteins on the inside of the particle.
In addition to my research project, I was involved in the planning stages for the new John Innes Centre spin-out, Leaf Systems International Ltd, which opened on the Norwich Research Park in January 2017 and will enable translation of research to indsutry through scale-up of plant-based production of proteins and metabolites.
I have also participated in various outreach activities, such as a TV interview for regional news, the Great British Bioscience Festival, JIC’s Speed Science event as well as a work experience day for school children, amongst others.