Uzbekistan has developed an edible COVID-19 vaccine based on tomatoes

Shavkat Mirziyoyev assumed leadership in Uzbekistan in 2016 and initiated significant reforms in the country. He abolished “cotton slavery,” which involved forcing students and state employees to work in seasonal cotton harvesting. Mirziyoyev opened Uzbekistan to foreign tourists, showcasing its ancient mosques, madrasas (Islamic schools), and natural beauty.

The Uzbek leader attracted investments for the country’s economic development, streamlined business conditions, and increased foreign trade with various countries, from China to European Union states. Shavkat Mirziyoyev also paid significant attention to investments in human capital, including the development of education, healthcare, and science.

Genetic engineering of plants

Perhaps not widely remembered now, but one of Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s first decisions as President was the establishment of the Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics within the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017. Since then, this center has been successfully engaged in its mission of genetic engineering and the breeding of agricultural crops resistant to pests, diseases, and challenging climate conditions. The Uzbek President understood the importance of this for his country, where summers are scorching, and artificial land irrigation is actively employed in agriculture.

Recently, the Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics unveiled a surprising development – it has developed an edible coronavirus vaccine based on tomatoes. This is not an April Fool’s joke but rather a serious research effort published by the reputable international scientific portal Frontiers and endorsed by other scientists.

Scientific basis for COVID-19 treatment

According to Frontiers, Uzbek researchers integrated a gene fragment responsible for encoding the antigenic protein S1 of the coronavirus into the genome of tomato cells. Subsequently, a tomato plant was cultivated from these genetically modified cells, consistently producing the S1 antigen protein. The TOMAVAC vaccine was then derived from these tomato fruits.

TOMAVAC trials were conducted on mice and human volunteers and showed no side effects. Most importantly, they demonstrated statistically significant vaccine effectiveness – an increased level of neutralizing antibodies against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in the blood and intestinal mucosa compared to control groups.

The benefits of edible vaccines

The most well-known coronavirus vaccines, such as those from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, are administered intramuscularly and act on the immune system as a whole, which does not rule out reinfection. Compared to them, an edible vaccine may prove to be more long-lasting and reliable because it enters the body through the mouth, providing protection at the “entry point” of the virus and reducing the possibility of reinfection.

In recent years, we have become accustomed to vaccination in the form of shots, including against diseases like measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), Ebola, influenza, and others. Still, there is nothing unusual about oral vaccines, as they have been used to treat diseases like polio, typhoid and cholera.

Moreover, edible oral vaccines are currently one of the hottest trends in biomedicine. The principle is the same as with TOMAVAC – specific gene fragments are inserted into plant genomes, and they start producing antigenic proteins for virus treatment. Such research is conducted in various countries using potatoes, bananas, corn, legumes, rice, and more.

Uzbekistan rides a popular scientific trend

Edible vaccines reduce the cost of vaccination, making them particularly attractive for developing countries. They do not require special transportation conditions and do not need to be stored in refrigerators at medical facilities like injection capsules. Additional research will be needed for the commercial use of TOMAVAC and similar edible vaccines, but their potential is already evident.

Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who was re-elected as President of Uzbekistan until 2030 last year, aims to double the country’s GDP, boost exports, and increase the well-being of citizens to above-average global levels. The plan also includes improving the quality of education and healthcare in the country and advancing science.

The development of its own edible coronavirus vaccine could be one of Uzbekistan’s steps in the direction set by Mirziyoyev. It is a scientific achievement that enhances Uzbekistan’s prestige in the world, contributes to the improvement of the healthcare system, and could potentially become an export product. Who knows, perhaps in the world, Uzbekistan will soon be known not only for cotton, uranium, and ancient mosques but also for a tomato vaccine.

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