An article from Sciencedaily news, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161020142815.htm, stated that tobacco plants can be genetically modified to produce a compound that is very helpful against fighting malaria. The actual paper written by the scientists is titled, “Compartmentalized Metabolic Engineering for Artemisinin Biosynthesis and Effective Malaria Treatment by Oral Delivery of Plant Cells”, published in Molecular Plant in 2016. (http://www.cell.com/molecular-plant/abstract/S1674-2052(16)30222-2). Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that is carried and transmitted by a parasite. The image above is a SEM of a malaria infected red blood cell. Artemisinin is the compound that can destroy the malaria parasite in the bloodstream within 48 hours. The reason it is not in use in the place that need it is because they do not have access the plant or the extraction methods used to get the artemisinin. Artemisinin comes from the plant Artemisia annua or more commonly known as sweet wormwood. Africa and southern Asia is where malaria is at its worst and sweet wormwood is not easy to grow in these types of climates. The ideal plant that could be genetically modified to produce artemisinin is one that would thrive in the climates where malaria is common. The extraction methods are also very costly making even more inaccessible for people in under-developed areas where malaria is ramped. Tobacco seemed to be a good fit because it does thrive in climates similar to that of Africa’s or Southern Asia, and it is easily genetically manipulated. Early studies, on the other hand, produced a low yield of the artemisinin. Shashi Kumar and her team did not give up on the tobacco plant, they used the tobacco plant and utilized a dual-transformation approach. This approach is basically just put the genes that code for artemisinin production in two different places, in the chloroplast and the again in the nuclear genome. This was proposed and later confirmed that the tobacco plants would produce more artemisinin and therefore be more effective in fighting malaria. They study also suggested that eat the whole plant is more effective than just injecting the pure artemisinin. This could be due the cell wall which is thought to hindering the enzymatic break down of the artemisinin, like a time release capsule.
Cell Press. (2016, October 20). Tobacco plants engineered to manufacture high yields of malaria drug. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 26, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161020142815.htm
Karan Malhotra, Mayavan Subramaniyan, Khushboo Rawat, Md. Kalamuddin, M. Irfan Qureshi, Pawan Malhotra, Asif Mohmmed, Katrina Cornish, Henry Daniell, Shashi Kumar. Compartmentalized Metabolic Engineering for Artemisinin Biosynthesis and Effective Malaria Treatment by Oral Delivery of Plant Cells. Molecular Plant, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.molp.2016.09.013