Subunit vaccines are significantly more expensive to produce than traditional vaccines because they are based primarily on recombinant proteins that must be purified from the expression system. Despite the increased cost, subunit vaccines are being developed because they are safe, effective, and can elicit antibodies that confer protection against diseases that are not currently vaccine-preventable. Algae are an attractive platform for producing subunit vaccines because they are relatively inexpensive to grow, genetically tractable, easily scaled to large volumes, have a short generation time, and are devoid of inflammatory, viral, or prion contaminants often present in other systems. We tested whether algal chloroplasts can produce malaria transmission blocking vaccine candidates, Plasmodium falciparum surface protein 25 (Pfs25) and 28 (Pfs28). Antibodies that recognize Pfs25 and Pfs28 disrupt the sexual development of parasites within the mosquito midgut, thus preventing transmission of malaria from one human host to the next. These proteins have been difficult to produce in traditional recombinant systems because they contain tandem repeats of structurally complex epidermal growth factor-like domains, which cannot be produced in bacterial systems, and because they are not glycosylated, so they must be modified for production in eukaryotic systems. Production in algal chloroplasts avoids these issues because chloroplasts can fold complex eukaryotic proteins and do not glycosylate proteins. Here we demonstrate that algae are the first recombinant system to successfully produce an unmodified and aglycosylated version of Pfs25 or Pfs28. These antigens are structurally similar to the native proteins and antibodies raised to these recombinant proteins recognize Pfs25 and Pfs28 from P. falciparum. Furthermore, antibodies to algae-produced Pfs25 bind the surface of in-vitro cultured P. falciparum sexual stage parasites and exhibit transmission blocking activity. Thus, algae are promising organisms for producing cysteine-disulfide-containing malaria transmission blocking vaccine candidate proteins.
What can I say...go green!