Currently, research into the use of mRNA vaccines for animal agriculture has been gaining traction, with shrimp becoming the latest addition to a growing list of food sources targeted by mRNA gene therapy technology. An Israeli company, ViAqua, has raised $8.25 million from venture capitalists to promote and improve animal health in marine species through its orally administered RNA-particle platform.
ViAqua’s vaccine product uses ribonucleic acid interference (RNAi) technology to manipulate gene expression in shrimp. This involves using RNA molecules to inhibit gene expression or translation, neutralizing the targeted mRNA molecules. The vaccine comes in the form of a coated feed supplement that is designed to enhance shrimp’s resistance to white spot syndrome virus (WSSV), a viral infection that annually results in a loss of $3 billion and a 15% reduction in global shrimp production. ViAqua claims that its technology can inhibit disease-causing gene expression with every meal containing its coated product.
The company plans to begin production in India in 2024 and believes that its technology has numerous applications in aquaculture and beyond. They have also stated their intentions to address the need for affordable disease solutions in aquaculture, citing the high costs of traditional vaccine delivery methods.
In addition to aquaculture, other markets are being targeted with mRNA vaccines. Genvax Technologies, a startup that is currently developing mRNA vaccines for animals, has secured $6.5 million in funding to develop a self-amplifying mRNA (saRNA) platform. This allows for the rapid development of a herd or flock-specific vaccine, matched 100% to the circulating variant at the root of a disease outbreak. The company cites the potential of their technology to be used in drugs and vaccines.
Genvax’s saRNA technology utilizes lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) to encapsulate saRNA, which is then injected into animals to provide instructions to their immune cells. This prompts them to translate the sequence into proteins that act as antigens, similar to how the COVID-19 vaccine prompts the body to generate spike proteins. However, there is little research on the potential long-term effects of consuming meat from animals vaccinated with mRNA technology.
While mRNA vaccines are not yet licensed for use in U.S. beef cattle, concerns have been raised by ranchers. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has stated that these vaccines are not currently approved for use in beef cattle, but the organization, R-CALF USA, has raised concerns about the use of mRNA vaccines in cattle and the potential effects of consuming meat from vaccinated animals.
In April 2023, R-CALF USA met with medical doctors and a molecular biologist to discuss the status of mRNA injections in the global protein supply chain. Veterinarian Max Thornsberry reported that some researchers have found that mRNA and its coded virus could pass to humans who have consumed dairy or meat products from an mRNA-injected animal. This has sparked concern about the full impact and unknown long-term effects of consuming meat from animals injected with mRNA vaccines and has led to calls for more extensive research on the topic.
In an op-ed posted on its website, R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard stated that the organization has been attacked for its position and accused of “fearmongering and misinformation.” However, the organization believes that people have the right to know if the meat they are consuming comes from animals that have been injected with mRNA vaccines.
Several states have proposed legislation to require the labeling of products derived from animals administered mRNA vaccines, indicating a growing concern from the public about the use of this technology in animal agriculture.