Scientists Hijacked Tobacco Plants to Make Malaria Drugs

 Scientists Hijacked Tobacco Plants to Make Malaria Drugs

A promising new advance could make the world’s best anti-malarial drug more widely available

Tobacco

Malaria is one of the modern world’s most pressing public health challenges—a disease made even trickier by how difficult it has proven to come up with and mass produce new treatments. But now, a scientific breakthrough could change this. Researchers have learned how to hack tobacco plants to manufacture the most effective anti-malarial treatment in quantities that could one day make the drug more widely available.

In new research published in the journal Molecular Plant, an international team reveals how they genetically engineered tobacco plants to produce a compound called artemisinin. The compound is found in sweet wormwood, or Artemisia, an herb that is found in China, Vietnam and parts of east Africa. The plant has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fevers, and in the 1970s the compound was extracted by Tu Youyou. The Chinese pharmaceutical researcher was part of a research group commissioned by Chairman Mao to find malaria treatments for North Vietnamese soldiers. She wondered if traditional remedies could hold promise, and eventually won a Nobel Prize in Medicine for her work. Read more.