September 10, 2009

GM pea seeds protect against parasites

German scientists say they've created a breed of pea seeds that contain antibodies against coccidiosis, a disease caused by a parasite that attacks chickens.

The Novoplant GmbH researchers, led by Sergej Kiprijanov of the German biotechnology company Affitech, developed the genetically modified seeds.

There are a few major issues precluding the use of monoclonal antibodies for passive immunization of chickens against infectious diseases, primarily the costs of antibody production and treatment, Kiprijanov said. Treatment costs are high because antibodies must normally be given intravenously; otherwise they are destroyed in the animal's gut. By expressing the antibodies inside pea seeds, they are protected from this degradation, allowing our system to dramatically reduce treatment costs.

The researchers said they found infected chickens fed the antibody-containing pea seeds that were shredded into their feed were significantly less likely to contract coccidiosis than chickens fed ordinary pea seeds in their fodder.

Compared with methods of active vaccination, the passive immunization strategy "¦ is an easy and non-invasive method to use in commercial settings, Kiprijanov said. The cost of production is comparatively low, utilizing current agriculture technologies, and the strategy can be used in combination with other anti-parasitic agents.

The study appears in the journal BMC Biotechnology.