Boosting production of key malaria drug with genetically engineered plant

| | May 1, 2018
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Artemisia annua. Image credit: Biologiquement
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Scientists have modified a plant’s genetic sequence to make it produce high levels of a key malaria drug, potentially helping meet the large global demand. The team identified genes involved in making artemisinin, altering their activity to produce three times more of the drug than “normal” plants make.

The work appears in the journal Molecular Plant.

The team produced a high quality draft of the Artemisia annua plant’s genome and used this information, along with data on how genes are expressed, to engineer plants that produced high levels of artemisinin.

Previous efforts to increase the yield of artemisinin had been hampered by the absence of a reference genome and the limited information about the genes involved in regulating the drug’s synthesis. But by simultaneously increasing the activity of three genes – HMGR, FPS, and DBR2 – the researchers generated A. annua lines that produced high artemisinin levels – about 3.2% of the dry weight of the leaves. The compound typically makes up only 0.1%-1.0% of the dry weight of non-engineered A. annua leaves.

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[Researcher Kexuan] Tang and his team have sent artemisinin-rich seed samples to Madagascar, the African country that grows the most A. annua, for a field trial. The researchers are also continuing to explore ways to enhance artemisinin production, with the goal of developing versions whose leaves contain 5% artemisinin.

Read full, original post: GM plant tech boosts malaria drug yield

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