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Artemisinin is the main weapon in the fight against malaria. However, the active ingredient has so far been very expensive due to the complex extraction from a low-yield medicinal plant. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology have now succeeded in using a new method to produce the precursor of artemisinin, artemisinic acid, in large quantities.
The naturally occurring Artemisinin is only produced in small quantities by Artemisia annua, the annual mugwort. The production of artemisinic acid in tobacco, a crop with large leaf yield, would be one way of producing the drug more cheaply, making it available primarily to patients in developing countries.
In a first step, the team of scientists transferred the genes for the most important enzymes of artemisinin synthesis into the genetic material of the chloroplasts of the tobacco plant. By changing the chloroplasts so-called transplastomic plants are created. The best of these plants were then selected to insert another set of genes, but now directly into the cell nucleus of the plants. The additional genes intervene in the regulation of the metabolic pathway and ensure that the synthesis of artemisinic acid is increased once again. (Source)