Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) cause acute diarrhea in humans and farm animals, and can be fatal if the host is left untreated. As a potential alternative to traditional needle vaccination of cattle, we investigated the feasibility of expressing the major K99 fimbrial subunit, FanC, in soybean (Glycine max) for use as an edible subunit vaccine. As a first step in this developmental process, a synthetic version of fanC was optimized for expression in the cytosol and transferred to soybean via Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. Western analysis of T(0) events revealed the presence of a peptide with the expected mobility for FanC in transgenic protein extracts, and immunofluorescense confirmed localization to the cytosol. Two T(0) lines, which accumulated FanC to levels near 0.5% of total soluble protein, were chosen for further molecular characterization in the T(1) and T(2) generations. Mice immunized intraperitoneally with protein extract derived from transgenic leaves expressing synthetic FanC developed significant antibody titers against bacterially derived FanC and produced antigen-specific CD4(+) T lymphocytes, demonstrating the ability of transgenic FanC to function as an immunogen. These experiments are the first to demonstrate the expression and immunogenicity of a model subunit antigen in the soybean system, and mark the first steps toward the development of a K99 edible vaccine to protect against ETEC.
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