Feed has already found a new competitor in ethanol for the grain resources available internationally. Now crop products are also to be investigated as a potential source of vaccines to combat animal diseases such as avian influenza.

The work is starting as collaboration between laboratories from the European Union and Russia with participation from South Africa. Funding comes from the EU Framework 7 programme and the project will be co-ordinated from the independent John Innes research centre in Norwich, UK. The laboratories consortium named PLAPROVA will make use of new techniques that allow rapid large-scale screening of plant materials for candidate vaccines.

Plants have been used to produce pharmaceuticals, but the few identified previously as having vaccine ability have struggled to compete with existing conventional products. Initially, the consortium will concentrate on diseases of importance to farming in both the EU and Russia, which includes avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease and PRRS of pigs. Proteins identified through the screening programme will be developed for large-scale production and ultimately low-cost production of effective vaccines.