Crop Biotech Update

New Plant Engineering Method to Help Mass Production of Malaria Drug

June 15, 2016

A new research reports that a novel and inexpensive technique for producing artemisinin, the main ingredient in the most effective treatment for malaria, could help meet global demands for the drug. Artemisinin is produced in low yields by the herb known as sweet wormwood, Artemisia annua.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology have discovered a new way to produce artemisinic acid, the molecule from which artemisinin is derived, in high yields. Their method involves transferring its metabolic pathway from A. annua into tobacco, a high-biomass crop.

The team calls this approach COSTREL, short for combinatorial supertransformation of transplastomic recipient lines. The first step was to transfer the genes of the artemisinic acid pathway's core set of enzymes into the chloroplast genome of tobacco plants, generating what are known as transplastomic plants. The team then used their best transplastomic tobacco plant line to introduce an additional set of genes into its nuclear genome, generating the COSTREL lines. These remaining genes encode factors that increase the synthesis, or generation, of the acid in ways that are still largely unknown.

Read more about this research at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology website.