BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 11, 1998 -- The results from a summer of research show that pharmaceutical-producing tobacco can be grown on a commercial scale, according to Virginia Tech scientists.
Carole Cramer, professor of plant pathology, physiology and weed science, said additional field trials next summer are expected to confirm and extend the findings from this year. Jim Jones, an agronomist and director of Virginia Tech's Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Blackstone, said the summer's field tests produced encouraging data as well as experience in managing tobacco grown for medical uses.
"We're not looking at growing tobacco in the way its been grown in the past," Jones said. "In fact, what we've got is really a new crop."
Jones said the field research included increasing the population of tobacco plants from about 6,000 plants per acre in traditional tobacco growing practices to as much as 100,000 plants per acre.
The growing pattern of tobacco to produce leaf for tobacco companies is well established, he said. What Cramer is looking for, however, is the optimum cultural practices to produce protein. With that in mind, the transgenic tobacco was harvested multiple times during the summer at a point far earlier than tobacco is harvested for traditional uses.
In 1995, a team consisting of Cramer and her associates at Virginia Tech and CropTech, a biotechnology company located in Blacksburg, was the first to induce a plant to express an human protein with enzymatic activity. That achievement has opened the possibility of using plants as factories to produce human proteins that can be used in pharmaceuticals.
The tobacco planted at Virginia Tech's agricultural research and extension centers in Blackstone and in Glade Spring last summer used a "marker" gene rather than the human genes. The marker gene allowed scientists to evaluate the ability of tobacco grown in different densities to produce a target
Contact: Carole Cramer