Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New plant engineering method could help fill demand for crucial malaria drug


A new and inexpensive technique for mass-producing the main ingredient in the most effective treatment for malaria, artemisinin, could help meet global demands for the drug, according to a study to be published in the journal eLife.

Artemisinin is produced in low yields by a herb called Artemisia annua (A. annua), otherwise known as sweet wormwood. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology have now discovered a new way to produce artemisinic acid, the molecule from which artemisinin is derived, in high yields.

A new and inexpensive technique for mass-producing medical drugs.

Their method involves transferring its metabolic pathway – the series of biochemical steps involved in its production – from A. annua into tobacco, a high-biomass crop.

“Malaria is a devastating tropical disease that kills almost half a million people every year,” says contributing author Ralph Bock, Director of the Department for Organelle Biology, Biotechnology and Molecular Ecophysiology.

“For the foreseeable future, artemisinin will be the most powerful weapon in the battle against malaria but, due to its extraction from low-yielding plants, it is currently too expensive to be widely accessible to patients in poorer countries. Producing artemisinic acid in a crop such as tobacco, which yields large amounts of leafy biomass, could provide a sustainable and inexpensive source of the drug, making it more readily available for those who need it most.”

The team has called this approach to producing more artemisinic acid COSTREL (“combinatorial supertransformation of transplastomic recipient lines”). The first step in their process 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.

“While the artemisinic acid pathway in A. annua is confined to the glandular hairs on the plant, leading to low yields of artemisinin, our COSTREL tobacco lines produce it in their chloroplasts and therefore the whole leaf,” says lead author and postdoctoral researcher Paulina Fuentes.

“We generated over 600 engineered tobacco plant lines that harbour different combinations of these additional genes, and analysed them in terms of the amounts of artemisinic compounds they acquired. We could then identify those that generated unprecedented levels of 120 milligrams per kilogram of artemisinic acid in their leaves, which can be readily converted into artemisinin through simple chemical reactions.”

Although further increases in these production levels will be needed if global demand for artemisinin is to be met, the study lays the foundation for much cheaper production of this life-saving therapy in a high-biomass crop, in contrast to a single medicinal plant.

It also provides a new tool for engineering many other complex pathways, with the potential to increase production of other essential therapeutic ingredients.


The paper ‘A new synthetic biology approach allows transfer of an entire metabolic pathway from a medicinal plant to a biomass crop’ can be freely accessed online at Contents, including text, figures, and data, are free to reuse under a CC BY 4.0 license.
Media contacts

Emily Packer, eLife
01223 855373

Ulrike Glaubitz, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology
+49 331 567 8275

Weitere Informationen:

Dipl. Ing. agr. Ursula Ross-Stitt | Max-Planck-Institut für Molekulare Pflanzenphysiologie

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Forest Management Yields Higher Productivity through Biodiversity
14.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Farming with forests
23.09.2016 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES)

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>