Rice Seed Yields Blood Protein: Scientific American
Human serum albumin from transgenic rice could ease shortages of donated blood.
One can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, but new research suggests that a bit of transgenic tweaking may make it possible to squeeze blood—or at least blood protein—from a grain of rice. In a study published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers describe rice seeds that can produce substantial quantities of a blood protein called human serum albumin, or HSA.
HSA is in high demand around the world, both for its role in drug and vaccine production and for use in treating patients with severe burns and other serious conditions such as haemorrhagic shock and liver cirrhosis. The primary source of therapeutic HSA is donated human blood. To overcome limitations caused by blood shortages and contamination of donated blood by viruses, researchers worldwide have been working to create functional HSA either synthetically, with the help of yeast and bacteria, or in transgenic organisms such as cows and tobacco.
In China, which has suffered from HSA shortages and contaminated blood supplies, the idea of using an abundant crop like rice to supplement or even supplant the current albumin supply is an attractive one. “We could ease demand for HSA and reduce the potential risk of spreading viruses in blood plasma. That’s what prompted me to do something like this,” says Daichang Yang, a plant biotechnologist at Wuhan University, China, who led the research.