Plants as factories for human pharmaceuticals: Applications and challenges

Jian Yao, Yunqi Weng, Alexia Dickey, Kevin Yueju Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

193 Scopus citations


Plant molecular farming (PMF), defined as the practice of using plants to produce human therapeutic proteins, has received worldwide interest. PMF has grown and advanced considerably over the past two decades. A number of therapeutic proteins have been produced in plants, some of which have been through pre-clinical or clinical trials and are close to commercialization. Plants have the potential to mass-produce pharmaceutical products with less cost than traditional methods. Tobacco-derived antibodies have been tested and used to combat the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Genetically engineered immunoadhesin (DPP4-Fc) produced in green plants has been shown to be able to bind to MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), preventing the virus from infecting lung cells. Biosafety concerns (such as pollen contamination and immunogenicity of plant-specific glycans) and costly downstream extraction and purification requirements, however, have hampered PMF production from moving from the laboratory to industrial application. In this review, the challenges and opportunities of PMF are discussed. Topics addressed include; transformation and expression systems, plant bioreactors, safety concerns, and various opportunities to produce topical applications and health supplements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28549-28565
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Edible vaccine
  • Humanized glycan
  • Plant molecular farming
  • Seed platform
  • Transient expression


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