About this Research Topic
Biological and biotechnological products (biologics) have a major impact on our lives. Such products can be part of routine activities and consumables, e.g. as laundry detergent additives or become life-saving medicines in the form of vaccines or anti-cancer compounds such as monoclonal antibodies. The vast majority of biologics is currently being produced by fermentation or cell culture-based processes or recovered from natural sources, e.g. medicinal plants taken from their native ecosystems. Despite their biological nature, one can expect that many of the products currently on the market have a relevant ecological and resource footprint due to the amount of consumables that is required during upstream production (USP) and downstream processing (DSP), including water and energy consumption. In view of the global climate change and depletion of fossil and mineral deposits, it appears prudent to investigate and develop alternative production approaches for high-value biopharmaceutical compounds as well as bulk products. In this context, plant-based expression can be a major advantage due to the photoautotrophy of green plants, which can reduce carbon dioxide emission. Furthermore, plants are completely compostable, facilitating waste management. Therefore, engineering plants and plant-based processes to manufacture either biopharmaceuticals, commodity or bulk products has the potential to reduce the amount of consumables including process media such as water and energy.
However, plant-based processes have suffered in the past from low expression levels of recombinant proteins, complex DSP strategies, and difficulties with regulatory approval. The latter has been predominantly based on a lack of an official legislative framework as well as low and varying public acceptance, e.g. for open-field cultivation of genetically modified (GM) plants. Therefore, the aim of this Research Topic entitled “Engineering plants and plant-based processes for a sustainable biomanufacturing economy” is to highlight the current developments in plant biotechnology, process engineering, and regulatory approval of plant-based processes for the production of biologics. Special focus will be put on product quality attributes, such as glycosylation, that can be improved through plant-based expressionand novel production approaches like minimal processing, as well as the commercialization potential and possible risks. In the latter context, the classification of new plant varieties generated by engineering techniques like CRISPR/Cas as either GM or non-GM will be of importance.
Keywords: Product commercialization, plant-based expression, upstream production, downstream processing, regulatory approval
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