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Plant molecular farming (PMF) is a convenient and cost-effective way to produce high-value recombinant proteins that can be used in the production of a range of health products, from pharmaceutical therapeutics to cosmetic products. New plant breeding techniques (NPBTs) provide a means to enhance PMF systems more quickly and with greater precision than ever before. However, the feasibility, regulatory standing and social acceptability of both PMF and NPBTs are in question. This paper explores the perceptions of key stakeholders on two European Union (EU) Horizon 2020 programmes-Pharma-Factory and Newcotiana-towards the barriers and facilitators of PMF and NPBTs in Europe. One-on-one qualitative interviews were undertaken with N = 20 individuals involved in one or both of the two projects at 16 institutions in seven countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Israel, Spain and the UK). The findings indicate that the current EU regulatory environment and the perception of the public towards biotechnology are seen as the main barriers to scaling-up PMF and NPBTs. Competition from existing systems and the lack of plant-specific regulations likewise present challenges for PMF developing beyond its current niche. However, respondents felt that the communication of the benefits and purpose of NPBT PMF could provide a platform for improving the social acceptance of genetic modification. The importance of the media in this process was highlighted. This article also uses the multi-level perspective to explore the ways in which NPBTs are being legitimated by interested parties and the systemic factors that have shaped and are continuing to shape the development of PMF in Europe.

Original publication





PloS one

Publication Date





Institute for Infection and Immunity, St George's University of London, Tooting, London, United Kingdom.


Humans, Plants, Plants, Genetically Modified, Tobacco, Genetic Engineering, Biotechnology, European Union, Molecular Farming, Plant Development, Plant Breeding, Gene Editing