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Tobacco could help save lives, UC Davis team says

6:37 PM, Jun 2, 2010   |    comments
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  • Vaccine protein is grown in a tobacco leaf
  • (L-R) Bob Kays, Lucas Arzola, Gabriel Paulino

DAVIS, CA - The tobacco plant has rightly earned its deadly reputation.  But a student team at UC Davis suggests tobacco could be used to produce vaccines more quickly and cheaply than traditional methods.

"To summarize, we would be using tobacco plants to help save lives," said team leader Lucas Arzola, a graduate student in chemical engineering.

Arzola and his three teammates were awarded $15,000 in a campus business plan competition known as Big Bang for their proposal to grow and extract vaccines from the leaves of the tobacco plant.  Arzola said a tobacco plant can produce a viable vaccine in as little as a week and is cheaper than using eggs or cell cultures.

The team, known as Inserogen, chose tobacco over other plants because it grows quickly and is not a food crop.  Team member Bob Kays said they also realized the beneficial use of tobacco would attract attention.  "I think this is an opportunity where tobacco can be used in a good sense," Kays said.

Team member Gabriel Paulino said the goal is to obtain patents and venture capital to prove the commercial potential of vaccines produced by tobacco leaves.

by George Warren,


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