Genetic blueprint for vaccine and therapeutics production in plants

An international research project led by QUT has made a major step forward on the potential of the Australian plant, N.benthamiana, to grow therapeutic proteins and vaccines cheaply and quickly.

  • Fully sequenced genome of a biotechnology plant ‘workhorse’ described in Nature Plants
  • Research opens up new possibilities for plant-based therapeutics production
  • The plant has already been used to produce COVID-19 vaccines

The research, published in Nature Plants, has determined the complete genome sequence of this plant, which has been used in the production of least three COVID-19 vaccines and three COVID-19 testing kits.

QUT Professor Peter Waterhouse, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Success in Nature & Agriculture, said the sequencing of the human genome had enabled huge advances in medical science and diagnostics.

“Similarly, determining the sequence of the N. benthamiana genome has the potential to enhance biotechnological and agricultural research and plant-based production of therapeutics,” Professor Waterhouse said.

“This endemic Australian plant is regarded as a workhorse for fundamental research and biotechnology worldwide because it is the species of choice for testing and implementing advanced discovery and engineering approaches in plant biology, thanks to its unmatched, fast, transient transgene analysis.”

Professor Waterhouse said a website (, provided complete access to the genome and its annotation and had been produced for the global scientific community to use as a roadmap to guide their research.

“N. benthamiana is used by biopharming researchers around the world as a biofactory to produce complex biologics (medicines that have been created in using living cells or organisms) with low production costs, high yields, and ease of scalability,” he said.

“The now fully sequenced genome will further improve the usefulness and versatility of it and of its distantly related wild strain (QLD) of N. benthamiana.”

Professor Chris Winefield, from Lincoln University, New Zealand and an associate investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Success in Nature & Agriculture, said this genome resource had provided insight into the mobile elements in the genome of N. benthamiana,

“It has shown a recent and ongoing burst of activity that may underpin this plant’s remarkable abilities to survive in Australia’s harshest environments,” Professor Winefield said.

A multi-omic Nicotiana benthamiana resource for fundamental research and biotechnology was published in Nature Plants on 10 August 2023.

(Images: inset from top: Dr Michal Lorenc, Dr Samanta Bolzan de Campos, Dr Felipe F de Felippes; main image, front row from left: Dr Leila Asadyar, Dr Buddhini Ranawaka; middle row: Dr Satomi Hayashi, Zuba Ahmed, Professor Peter Waterhouse, Dr Julia Bally, Sally Roden; back row from left: Dr Jiyuan An, Tal Cooper, Dr Kevin Dudley, Dr Zacharie LeBlanc, Chriss Williams, Hamish Macintosh)

The research team comprised: Dr Buddhini Ranawaka, Professor Peter Waterhouse, Dr Jiyuan An, Dr Michal Lorenc, Dr Zacharie LeBlanc, Dr Leila Asadyar, Dr Satomi Hayashi, Sally Roden, Zuba Ahmed, Dr Samanta Bolzan de Campos, Tal Cooper, Dr Felipe F de Felippes, Dr Kevin Dudley, Dr Julia Bally (QUT); Dr Fatima Nai, (Curtin University), Dr Hyungtaek Jung (The University of Queensland), Associate Professor Christopher Winefield (Lincoln University, New Zealand); Dr Maria Sulli, Dr Guiseppe Aprea, Professor Giovanni Giuliano (Casaccia Research Centre, Italy); Dr Victor Llaca (Corteva Agriscience, US); Dr Pengfei Dong, Dr Silin Zhong (The Chinese University of Hong Kong); Dr Victor Garcia-Carpintero, Professor Diego Orzaez, Professor Aureliano Bombarely (Universidad Politècnica de Valencia, Spain).

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