The Phytochemical Society of Europe (PSE) and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland held an international congress on plant biotechnology research on Aug. 26-29, 2007, in Helsinki, Finland. Nearly 200 scientist attended Plants for Human Health in the Post-genome Era, where they presented their current research on emerging technologies and possibilities to use plants as production hosts for valuable recombinant proteins and small molecules.
There were 34 presenters at the event from Europe, Asia and the United States, who showed the different aspects of plant biotechnology research. Cornelia Schürch, PhD, from Mibelle AG, was one of the presenters. Schürch analyzed the possibility of producing cosmetic active ingredients through cultivated plant cells. According to Schürch, new molecules for cosmetic use have been found in traditional medicinal plants, in exotic plants from the Amazon and Africa and in marine organisms. Active ingredients in plant cell cultures are on the cusp on innovation in molecules for cosmetics. The disadvantage of plant cells cultures compared to conventional plants reportedly is the high cost. The advantages, according to Schürch, are most of all the homogeneity of products: lower differences batch to batch, independence from harvesting period, environmental factors, insect attacks and from political destabilizations of developing countries, which often are the sites of plant production for cosmetic actives. Schürch pointed out that plant cell cultures do not cause trouble for endangered plants. Plant cell cultures are said to allow higher product yield in manufacturing active ingredients, through elicitation (stressing the cells with UV radiation, jasmonic acid or toxic substances) or selecting the most productive cell lines, analyzing or eventually modifying their genetic characteristics.
Fatima Ferreira, PhD, from University of Salzburg, Austria, illustrated the benefit of biotechnology in allergy tests. Skin tests, provocation tests and allergen immunotherapy have been performed using natural extracts for years, according to Ferreira. These are affected by a variability in the content of allergens even they are standardized for their content of certain major allergens. Thus, the use of recombinant proteins based on plant systems is an emerging strategy for improving allergy diagnosis and immunotherapy. Further, advantages are the appropriate post-transitional modifications and enhanced safety due to absence of animal and human pathogens.