Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Study Finds Potential Medical Uses for Algae

Published: Monday, April 22, 2013
Last Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Can scientists rid malaria from the Third World by simply feeding algae genetically engineered with a vaccine?

That’s the question biologists at UC San Diego sought to answer after they demonstrated last May that algae can be engineered to produce a vaccine that blocks malaria transmission. In a follow up study, published online today in the scientific journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, they got their answer: Not yet, although the same method may work as a vaccine against a wide variety of viral and bacterial infections.

In their most recent study, which the authors made freely available on the Applied and Environmental Microbiology website at, the researchers fused a protein that elicits an antibody response in mice against the organism that causes malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, which afflicts 225 million people worldwide, with a protein produced by the bacterium responsible for cholera, Vibrio cholera, that binds to intestinal epithelial cells. They then genetically engineered algae to produce this two-protein combination, or “fusion protein,” freeze dried the algae and later fed the resulting green powder to mice. The researchers hypothesized that together these proteins might be an effective oral vaccine candidate when delivered using algae.

The result? The mice developed Immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies to both the malarial parasite protein and to a toxin produced by the cholera bacteria. Because IgA antibodies are produced in the gut and mucosal linings, they don’t protect against the malarial parasites, which are injected directly into the bloodstream by mosquitoes. But their study suggests that similar fusion proteins might protect against infectious diseases that affect mucosal linings using their edible freeze-dried algae.

“Many bacterial and viral infections are caused by eating tainted food or water,” says Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the study. “So what this study shows is that you can get a really good immune response from a recombinant protein in algae that you feed to a mammal. In this case, it happens to be a mouse, but presumably it would also work in a human. That’s really encouraging for the potential for algae-based vaccines in the future.”

The scientists say bacterial infections caused by Salmonella, E. coli and other food and water-borne pathogens could be prevented in the future with inexpensive vaccines developed from algae that could be eaten rather than injected. “It might even be used to protect against cholera itself,” said James Gregory, a postdoctoral researcher in Mayfield’s lab and the first author of the paper. In his experiments with mice, he said, Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies—which are found in blood and tissues—were produced against the cholera toxin, “but not the malaria antigen and we don’t quite understand why.”

Part of the difficulty in creating a vaccine against malaria is that it requires a system that can produce structurally complex proteins that resemble those made by the parasite, thus eliciting antibodies that disrupt malaria transmission. Most vaccines created by engineered bacteria are relatively simple proteins that stimulate the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against bacterial invaders.

Three years ago, a UC San Diego team of biologists headed by Mayfield, who is also the director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, a research consortium seeking to develop transportation fuels from algae, published a landmark study demonstrating that many complex human therapeutic proteins, such as monoclonal antibodies and growth hormones, could be produced by the common algae Chlamydomonas. That got Gregory wondering if complex malarial transmission blocking vaccine candidates could also be produced by Chlamydomonas.  Two billion people live in malaria endemic regions, making the delivery of a malarial vaccine a costly and logistically difficult proposition, especially when that vaccine is expensive to produce. So the UC San Diego biologists set out to determine if this alga, an organism that can produce complex proteins very cheaply, could produce malaria proteins that would inhibit infections from malaria.

“It’s too costly to vaccinate two billion people using current technologies,” explained Mayfield. “Realistically, the only way a malaria vaccine will ever be used in the developing world is if it can be produced at a fraction of the cost of current vaccines.  Algae have this potential because you can grow algae any place on the planet in ponds or even in bathtubs.”

Collaborating with Joseph Vinetz, a professor of medicine at UC San Diego and a leading expert in tropical diseases who has been working on developing vaccines against malaria, the researchers showed in their earlier study, published in the open access journal PLoS ONE  last May that the proteins produced by the algae, when injected into laboratory mice, made antibodies that blocked malaria transmission from mosquitoes.

The next step was to see if they could immunize mice against malaria by simply feeding the genetically engineered algae. “We think getting oral vaccines in which you don’t have to purify the protein is the only way in which you can make medicines dramatically cheaper and make them available to the developing world,” says Mayfield. “The Holy Grail is to develop an orally delivered vaccine, and we predict that we may be able to do it in algae, and for about a penny a dose. Our algae-produced malarial vaccine works against malarial parasites in mice, but it needs to be injected into the bloodstream.”

Although an edible malarial vaccine is not yet a reality, he adds, “this study shows that you can make a pretty fancy protein using algae, deliver it to the gut and get IgA antibodies that recognize that protein. Now we know we have a system that can deliver a complex protein to the right place and develop an immune response to provide protection.”

Mayfield is also co-director of the Center for Food & Fuel for the 21st Century, a new research unit that has brought together researchers from across the campus to develop renewable ways of improving the nation’s food, fuel, pharmaceutical and other bio-based industries and is this week hosting a major symposium on the subject at the Institute of the Americas at UC San Diego.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,700+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Opening the Door to Safer, More Precise Cancer Therapies
New method regulates when, and how strongly, cancer-killing therapeutic T cells are activated.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Virus In Cattle Linked To Human Breast Cancer
A new study by UC Berkeley researchers establishes for the first time a link between infection with the bovine leukemia virus and human breast cancer.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Scientists Create CRISPR/Cas9 Knock-In Mutations in Human T Cells
In a project spearheaded by investigators at UC San Francisco, scientists have devised a new strategy to precisely modify human T cells using the genome-editing system known as CRISPR/Cas9.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Engineers Crack DNA Code of Autoimmune Disorders
Researchers have identified an unexpectedly general set of rules that determine which molecules can cause the immune system to become vulnerable to the autoimmune disorders lupus and psoriasis.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Using microRNA Fit to a T (Cell)
Researchers show B cells can deliver potentially therapeutic bits of modified RNA.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Autoimmune Disease Strategy Emerges from Immune Cell Discovery
UCSF experiments halt pancreas destruction in mouse model of diabetes.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Tuberculosis and Parkinson’s Disease Linked by Unique Protein
UCSF researchers seek way to boost protein to fight both diseases.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Therapy Could Treat Breast Cancer that's Spread to Brain
Researchers have successfully combined cellular therapy and gene therapy in a mouse-model system to develop a viable treatment strategy for breast cancer that has spread to a patient's brain.
Tuesday, August 06, 2013
Immune System Molecule Promotes Tumor Resistance
A team of scientists has shown for the first time that a signaling protein involved in inflammation also promotes tumor resistance to anti-angiogenic therapy.
Tuesday, August 06, 2013
Intestinal Bacteria May Fuel Inflammation and Worsen HIV Disease
Changes in intestinal bacteria may help explain why successfully treated HIV patients still experience life-shortening chronic diseases.
Friday, July 12, 2013
Prenatal Maternal Antibodies Affect Child Development
Prenatal exposure to specific combinations of antibodies found only in mothers of children with autism leads to changes in the brain that adversely affect behavior and development.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Absence of Gene Leads to Earlier, More Severe Case of Multiple Sclerosis
UCSF finding in animal study may lead to biomarker that predicts course of disease in humans.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Developmental Protein Plays Role in Spread of Cancer
A protein used by embryo cells during early development, and recently found in many different types of cancer, apparently serves as a switch regulating metastasis.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Depression Linked to Telomere Enzyme, Aging, Chronic Disease
The first symptoms of major depression may be behavioral, but the common mental illness is based in biology — and not limited to the brain.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Program for Breakthrough Biomedical Research to Celebrate 15 Years
A program that fosters basic science projects of potentially high impact is celebrating 15 years of discovery at UC San Francisco.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Scientific News
New Protein Found in Immune Cells
Immunobiologists from the University of Freiburg discover Kidins220/ARMS in B cells and demonstrate its functions.
Detecting HIV Diagnostic Antibodies with DNA Nanomachines
New research may revolutionize the slow, cumbersome and expensive process of detecting the antibodies that can help with the diagnosis of infectious and auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and HIV.
Snapshot Turns T Cell Immunology on its Head
New research may have implications for 1 diabetes sufferers.
Tolerant Immune System Increases Cancer Risk
Researchers have found that individuals with high immunoCRIT ratios may have an increased risk of developing certain cancers.
New Approach to Treating Heparin-induced Blood Disorder
A potential treatment for a serious clotting condition that can strike patients who receive heparin to treat or prevent blood clots may lie within reach by elucidating the structure of the protein complex at its root.
3 Ways Viruses Have Changed Science for the Better
Viruses are really good at what they do, and we’ve been able to harness their skills to learn about – and potentially improve – human health in several ways.
Mixed Up Cell Transportation Key Piece of ALS and Dementia Puzzle
Researchers from the University of Toronto are one step closer to solving this incredibly complex puzzle, offering hope for treatment.
Antibody Treatment Efficacious in Psoriasis
An experimental, biologic treatment, brodalumab, achieved 100 percent reduction in psoriasis symptoms in twice as many patients as a second, commonly used treatment, according to the results of a multicenter clinical trial led by Mount Sinai researchers.
Four Gut Bacteria Decrease Asthma Risk in Infants
New research by scientists at UBC and BC Children’s Hospital finds that infants can be protected from getting asthma if they acquire four types of gut bacteria by three months of age.
Escape Prevention
Studying flu virus structure brings us a step closer to a permanent vaccine.

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,700+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos