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Health

Scientists Grow Human Blood Protein in Rice

80beatsBy Veronique GreenwoodNovember 1, 2011 9:34 PM

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Human serum albumin is used in everything from vaccines to cell culture.

Human blood is in demand these days. Donor blood is required for transfusions, of course, but it also contains human serum albumin

, a blood protein used to treat shock, severe burns, and liver injuries

that also shows up in vaccines

and in cell culture materials. Worldwide, we use about 500 tons of human serum albumin (abbreviated HSA) a year. Shortages of the protein and the potential for contamination by blood-borne viruses have encouraged scientists to look beyond donor blood for sources. One promising approach, inserting the gene for HSA into plants and then harvesting the resulting protein, has always yielded too little for the method to make sense financially, but a new paper details a way to get around that: get the plant to make HSA in its seeds, which are lean, mean protein-concentrating machines

. HSA made up 10% of the soluble protein in the rice seeds produced by the research team, one of the highest yields on record from a transgenic plant. And when the team put it through its chemical paces, it worked exactly like normal, human-grown HSA, indicating that its sojourn in the plant world hadn't impaired its usefulness. If all goes as planned, the team will be testing rice-grown HSA in people in clinical trials in the next two years, with an eye towards supplanting donor blood as a source. [via Nature News

]

Image courtesy of Borislav Mitel / Wikimedia Commons

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