Tobacco plants 311.
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Although tobacco in the form of cigarettes is generally recognized as being a
killer of millions, the plant has been used by Hebrew University researchers to
produce an effective anti-malaria drug.
A genetically engineered form of
artemisinin, a natural compound that produces large quantities of the
anti-malaria drug - was announced Sunday by the Yissum Research Development
Company – the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s technology transfer company. The
biosynthesis method - a novel way of producing Artemisia annua, which is
naturally produced by sweet wormwood plants - was developed by Prof. Alexander
Vainstein and the research was published as a letter in the latest issue of the
journal Nature Biotechnology.
Combating malaria is one of the eight
Millennium Development Goals described in the UN Millennium Declaration signed
by all UN members 11 years ago. An important way to control the deadly parasitic
disease that affects mostly the Third World is prompt and effective treatment
with artemisinin-based combination therapies.
artemisininbased drugs are in short supply because of the high cost of obtaining
the natural or chemically synthesized drug. Despite extensive efforts made in
the last decade in metabolic engineering of the drug in both microbial and
heterologous plant systems, no one has been able to produce artemisinin
Malaria, caused by the Plasmodium parasite, is transmitted via
mosquitoes. Symptoms include fever, headache and vomiting, and they usually
appear between 10 and 15 days after the mosquito bite. If left untreated,
malaria can quickly become life threatening by disrupting the blood supply to
vital organs. Over three billion people are at risk of malaria, and about 250
million new malaria cases occur each year, causing nearly a million deaths,
mostly of people living in poor countries.
Vainstein and graduate student
Moran Farhi developed genetically engineered tobacco plants carrying genes
encoding the entire biochemical pathway needed for producing artemisinin. In
light of tobacco’s high biomass and rapid growth, this invention will enable a
cheap production of large quantities of the drug, paving the way for the
development of a sustainable plant-based platform for the commercial production
of an antimalarial drug, said Yissum, which patented it and is now seeking a
partner for its further development.
Yissum CEO Yaacov Michlin said
Vainstein’s technology provides for the first time, the opportunity for
manufacturing affordable artemisinin by using tobacco plants.
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this invention will eventually help control this prevalent disease, for the
benefit of many millions of people around the globe and in particular in the
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