Sunday, September 9, 2001
corn. Waiving fields of maize may one day save the world
The pregnancy prevention plants are the handiwork of the San
Diego biotechnology company Epicyte, where researchers have
discovered a rare class of human antibodies that attack
By isolating the genes that regulate the manufacture of
these antibodies, and by putting them in corn plants, the
company has created tiny horticultural factories that make
'We have a hothouse filled with corn plants that make
anti-sperm antibodies,' said Epicyte president Mitch Hein.
'We have also created corn plants that make antibodies
against the herpes virus, so we should be able to make a
plant-based jelly that not only prevents pregnancy but also
blocks the spread of sexual disease.'
Contraceptive corn is based on research on the rare
condition, immune infertility, in which a woman makes
antibodies that attack sperm.
'Essentially, the antibodies are attracted to surface
receptors on the sperm,' said Hein. 'They latch on and make
each sperm so heavy it cannot move forward. It just shakes
about as if it was doing the lambada.'
Normally, biologists use bacteria to grow human proteins.
However, Epicyte decided to use corn because plants have
cellular structures that are much more like those of humans,
making them easier to manipulate.
The company, which says it will not grow the maize near
other crops, says it plans to launch clinical trials of the
corn in a few months.
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