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GM Tobacco vs. Malaria

October 25, 2016

Genetically engineered tobacco plants produce potent artemisinin – a highly effective malaria drug – at a fraction of the usual cost.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Fighting malaria with tobacco. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Derived from the sweet wormwood plant, artemisinin is one of the most effective malaria drugs available. But wormwood is hard to grow, making artemisinin too expensive for many patients in developing countries. Now, researchers report in the journal Molecular Plant that they’ve genetically engineered tobacco leaves that produce large amounts of highly potent artemisinin. Shashi Kumar of the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in India says after their success with tobacco, which is easy to genetically manipulate, they’re now working on artemisinin-producing lettuce.

SHASHI KUMAR (International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology):

…which can be powdered, and put into capsules. So the drug should be like 100 times cheaper. 

HIRSHON:

Kumar cautions that artemisinin must be given in combination with other malaria drugs to reduce the risk of the parasite developing drug resistance. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

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Engineering of the malaria drug artemisinin into a tobacco plant. (Malhotra et al.)

Story by Susanne Bard