Main research question/goal
This project investigates the extent to which the cultivation of (greenhouse) crops for molecular farming is viable, attractive and can be successfully implemented in the current social, economic and legal context in Flanders. Simultaneously we evaluate and optimize the chances of success for a production platform based on the seed and protein yields of Arabidopsis thaliana and related species. We thereby answer the research questions: how productive are A. thaliana and related species under greenhouse conditions? Can an Arabidopsis seed-based platform compete with other existing platforms? Molecular Farming is a challenging technology in the field of plant biotechnology for the production of valuable recombinant proteins. The large amount of scientific publications, patents, field trials, animal studies and clinical trials illustrate the technological advances in the last twenty years. But only a limited number of commercial successes are known.Research approach
A maximum yield recombinant protein can be achieved with an optimal genotype and an optimum environment in which resources, time, and space to be used in the most efficient manner for the production of seeds with a high content of recombinant proteins. We set up greenhouse experiments to identify 1) the best cultivation practices for optimal growth and 2) the best A. thaliana ecotypes with maximum seed yield and protein. Based on a comparative study of growth, seed yield and protein content, we also selected A. kamchatica as a potentially interesting platform for seed based production. We describe the genetic transformation of this species for the first time. With a participatory research we explore the socio-economic parameters that may affect the successful implementation of Molecular Farming in Flanders.Relevance/Valorisation
This doctoral research includes fundamental, technical, practical and socio-economic expertise. Under certain conditions, Molecular Farming appears to provide new opportunities for diversification in the Flemish horticulture. It can lead to spreading the risk of economic activities. Both the expertise and the infrastructure are available in plant biotechnology and horticulture. Recommendations for policy initiatives are formulated such as combining research funding and IP management to maximize the development of spin-offs or other biotech companies with a strong R&D department. No company is yet active in Molecular Farming in Flanders.