Today eighty percent of infants are being vaccinated for diphtheria; pertussis (whooping cough), polio, measles, tetanus and tuberculosis (Landrige 2000). This percentage is up from about five percent in the mid-1970s; however, the death toll from these infections is roughly three million annually. Millions still die from infectious diseases for which immunizations are non-existent, unreliable, or too costly. Vaccines all function with the same idea in mind, priming the immune system to swiftly destroy specific disease-causing agents, or pathogens, before the agents can multiply enough to cause symptoms (Landrige 2000). Classically, this priming has been achieved by presenting the immune system with whole viruses or bacteria that have been killed or made too weak to proliferate much (Landrige 2000).
In the early 1990's Charles J. Arntzen of Texas A&M found a way to solve many of the problems that bar vaccines from reaching all too many children in developing nations (Landrige 2000). Then Arntzen heard of a world health organization call for an inexpensive, oral vaccine that needed no refrigeration. He then visited Bangkok, where he saw a mother soothe a crying baby with a banana and he thought that perhaps food could be genetically engineered to produce vaccines in their edible parts, which could then be eaten when inoculations were needed (Landrige 2000). A genetically engineered food that would produce a vaccine is an amazing breakthrough in the world of immunization; vaccinations would become cheaper and more readily available.
Long before the causes of disease were known and long before the processes of recovery were understood, and interesting thing was observed: if people recovered from a disease, rather than succumbing to it, they appeared to be immune from a second bout with the same illness (Okonek 2001). First the Chinese tried to prevent small pox (a deadly disease characterized by pus-filled blisters) by exposing uninfected individuals to matter from smallpox lesions. This process was known as "variolation," and took on several different forms. One form consisted of removing pus and fluid from a smallpox lesion and using a needle to place it under the skin of the person to be protected (Okonek 2001). Another method involved peeling scabs from lesions, drying and grinding then to a powder, and letting an uninfected person inhale this powder. The third and final method was involving a small amount of the scab powder with a needle and then using the needle place the powder directly into the individuals veins (Okonek 2001). During this time Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British Ambassador to Turkey saw these procedures taking place in China and brought it back to England (Okonek 2001).
In the late 1700s Edward Jenner noticed a relationship between the equine disease known as "grease" and a bovine disease known as "cowpox" (Okonek 2001). Jenner saw that farmers who treated horses with grease lesions often saw...