Biotech Updates

Functional Human IL13 from GM Tobacco

June 13, 2008

Interleukin 13 (IL13) is a regulatory cytokine (signaling protein) that plays a central role in mediating immune responses. It prevents excessive allergic inflammation in tissues by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory proteins such as tumor necrosis factors. IL13 has the potential to treat numerous human diseases such as type-1 diabetes, chronic arthritis and several types of cancer. It is also needed in providing host protection against gastrointestinal helminths. Recently, scientists showed that IL13 is effective in preventing Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) replication. Despite these promises, treatment of human diseases by IL13 may be limited by the unavailability of functional IL13 at a low cost.

Currently, large scale production of IL13 is dependent on cell based expression systems. IL13 obtained using these systems must first be purified since both biologically active and inactive forms are produced. Isolation of functional IL13 increases the production cost.

In search of ways that will make its production cheaper, scientists from Canada developed transgenic tobacco lines expressing biologically active IL13. This is the first report of interleukin 13 production in plants. The team reported IL13 accumulation as high as 0.15 percent of the total soluble proteins in leaves. Simulated gastric and intestinal fluid digestion demonstrated the stability of the GM tobacco-derived cytokine.

The paper published by the Plant Biotechnology Journal is available to subscribers at Non-subscribers can read the abstract at