Scientists have discovered a gene that allows to double the production of artemisinin in the Artemisia annua plant. The artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) is the standard treatment for malaria worldwide, endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The paper, published in The Plant Journal, represents an important step towards reducing artemisinin production costs.
Regardless of artemisinin’s effectiveness against malaria and other diseases caused by parasites and despite its anti-tumour potential, its usage faces a problem: the low content produced by the plant and the high cost of its chemical synthesis result in a scarce and expensive drug.
Now, an international research team led by researchers from the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) and Sequentia Biotech S.L. has been able to obtain, through genetic engineering, Artemisia annua plants that produce twice as much artemisinin.
“We have discovered that the AaMYB1 gene has a dual function: it promotes trichome formation in the leaves and artemisinin synthesis inside the trichomes”, explains Soraya Pelaz, ICREA researcher at CRAG and senior author of the article. “By manipulating this gene, we have managed to grow plants which contain much more artemisinin than their wild-type counterparts,” she adds.[Read the full study here.]
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