Seed-based expression systems for plant molecular farming

Plant Biotechnol J. 2010 Jun;8(5):588-606. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7652.2010.00511.x.


The evolution of the seed system provides enormous adaptability to the gymnosperms and angiosperms, because of the properties of dormancy, nutrient storage and seedling vigour. Many of the unique properties of seeds can be exploited in molecular farming applications, particularly where it is desirable to produce large quantities of a recombinant protein. Seeds of transgenic plants have been widely used to generate a raw material for the extraction and isolation of proteins and polypeptides, which can be processed into valuable biopharmaceuticals. The factors that control high-level accumulation of recombinant proteins in seed are reviewed in the following paragraphs. These include promoters and enhancers, which regulate transcript abundance. However, it is shown that subcellular trafficking and targeting of the desired polypeptides or proteins play a crucial role in their accumulation at economically useful levels. Seeds have proven to be versatile hosts for recombinant proteins of all types, including peptides or short and long polypeptides as well as complex, noncontiguous proteins like antibodies and other immunoglobulins. The extraction and recovery of recombinant proteins from seeds is greatly assisted by their dormancy properties, because this allows for long-term stability of stored products including recombinant proteins and a decoupling of processing from the growth and harvest cycles. Furthermore, the low water content and relatively low bioload of seeds help greatly in designing cost-effective manufacturing processes for the desired active pharmaceutical ingredient. The development of cGMP processes based on seed-derived materials has only been attempted by a few groups to date, but we provide a review of the key issues and criteria based on interactions with Food and Drug Administration and European Medicines Agency. This article uses 'case studies' to highlight the utility of seeds as vehicles for pharmaceutical production including: insulin, human growth hormone, lysozyme and lactoferrin. These examples serve to illustrate the preclinical and, in one case, clinical information required to move these plant-derived molecules through the research phase and into the regulatory pathway en route to eventual approval.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Growth Hormone / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Insulin / biosynthesis
  • Lactoferrin / biosynthesis
  • Muramidase / biosynthesis
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / genetics
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / metabolism*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Recombinant Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Recombinant Proteins / isolation & purification
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology
  • Seed Storage Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Seeds / genetics
  • Seeds / metabolism*
  • Technology, Pharmaceutical


  • Insulin
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Seed Storage Proteins
  • Growth Hormone
  • Muramidase
  • Lactoferrin