On Christmas Eve 2020, a group of scientists released a report on a revolutionary new method for battling COVID-19. As a couple of ag researchers read through the findings, they became more and more excited. The potential of the described technology seemed almost limitless. Nanobodies, a tiny piece of the antibody cells found in the camelid animal family (camels, llamas, and so on), could interfere with just about any cellular organism, including bacteria and viruses.
One of those scientists reading the study results was Michelle Heck, PhD, Emerging Pests and Pathogens Research Molecular Biologist, USDA-ARS, who quickly reached out to her Florida colleagues, Robert Shatters, PhD, Research Molecular Biologist, USDA-ARS, and Marco Pitino, Lead Project Scientist at AgroSource. They were leading a team trying to find a way to battle citrus greening.
Heck, Shatters, and Pitino set out to do the following: See if plants and symbionts could produce nanobodies against COVID-19 and citrus greening disease, and find a cost-effective way to deliver nanobodies to trees to fight against the disease.
The trio recently released their own study showing proof of concept for these ideas.
Naturally, I had a lot of questions on nanobodies. Here is a small part of a Q&A with Heck and Shatters.
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How do nanobodies work?
Heck: [In citrus greening], the bacteria express these little weapons proteins called effector molecules/ effector proteins. [An effector molecule is a small molecule that selectively binds to host molecules and regulates their biological activity and this activity can induce disease symptoms.]
If the bacterial infection starts here in the plant or on this leaf, the bacteria will secrete effector proteins that move to the other part of the plant to dampen the plant’s immune system