Revolución y reacción en la agricultura biofarmacéutica

STANFORD – La obtención de medicinas a partir de plantas no es algo nuevo. La aspirina se obtuvo por primera vez de la corteza del sauce en el siglo XVIII y muchas otras substancias farmacéuticas comunes, incluidas la morfina, la codeína y el suplemento de fibra Metamucil, son purificaciones procedentes de flora mundial.

Más recientemente, los científicos han creado técnicas que hacen avanzar aún más ese proceso recurriendo a la ingeniería genética para inducir a los cultivos agrícolas a sintetizar substancias farmacéuticas muy valiosas. La gran promesa de esa tecnología, conocida como “agricultura biofarmacéutica”, surgió hace unos quince años con ensayos clínicos de vacunas y medicamentos producidos en plátanos, tomates y tabaco. Lamentablemente, los avances se han estancado después por la vehemente aversión al riesgo de los reglamentadores.

Un temprano ejemplo de agricultura biofarmacéutica fue la producción por la empresa de biotecnología Ventria Bioscience de un arroz que contenía dos proteínas humanas: la lactoferrina y la lisozima. Una vez cultivado y recolectado, se manipula el grano de arroz para extraer y purificar las proteínas a fin de utilizarlas en la solución para la rehidratación oral con miras a tratar la diarrea, que sólo superan las enfermedades respiratorias como infección principal que causa la muerte de niños menores de cinco años de edad en países en desarrollo.

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