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Scientists have recently (August 2009) genetically engineered tobacco plants to develop an anti-viral vaccine for the dreaded Norovirus. Norovirus is a very common cause of severe stomach ache which is medically diagnosed as viral gastroenteritis. It is also known as Cruise Ship Virus because of the number of recent outbreaks on cruise liners.
Norovirus typically spreads very quickly in contained populations like old people's homes, hospitals, ships, schools, army camps and holiday camps. It is a single strand RNA virus and typically mutates at a fast rate making the few vaccines available less than effective. However, the scientists at Arizona State University have managed to get a genetically engineered tobacco plant to produce a protein which the human body responds to as a viral infection similar to the Norovirus. The protein molecule is entirely harmless and so, unlike some vaccines, it has no detrimental effect on the recipient. But the body is stimulated to produce antibodies which are prepared to fight off an infection from the Norovirus. One of the potential benefits of this discovery is that variations of the protein can be quickly developed to keep up with the evolving Norovirus. Because the vaccine is developed in plants it is far quicker to produce large quantities and far less expansive than conventional animal based production.
Norovirus is generally very uncomfortable causing diarrhoea or vomiting and lasts a few days but is rarely life threatening. It is extremely infectious and can be spread by human contact, food and water. The most susceptible foods are seafood and salads with shell fish being the worst offenders. With no special hygiene most patients will infect about 14 other people which is what makes it so effective in closed communities. However good hygiene and washing of hands regularly does significantly reduce the infection rate. Alcohol and detergents are effective but chlorine based disinfectants are by far the most effective on this little RNA blighter.
If you smoke tobacco this is not so good for you and will have no defence against Norovirus except possibly in so far as you will be less likely to live in an enclosed environment and will possibly eat slightly less because it is an appetite suppressor. Giving up smoking is a highly recommended project and there are many ways to approach it. Take a look at giving up smoking page or pursue better health in general (check out the looking after your body page) which tends to reduce the desire to smoke. Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking is a highly recommendable book as it takes the most positive attitude towards liberating yourself from the oppression of smoking.19 Aug 2009