Infamous for its dire effects on our health, tobacco could soon be harnessed to produce an altogether different kind of drug, transforming it into a lifesaver for patients suffering from malaria. Effective treatments for malaria already exist, based on artemisinin, a compound extracted from sweet wormwood, Artemisia annua; yet these plants yield far too little to provide enough medicine for the millions affected. Tobacco, a fast-growing crop planted across the globe, could provide a solution to this problem. Researchers have recently succeeded in genetically modifying tobacco plants to produce artemisinic acid, a compound that can later be converted to artemisinin, by inserting a whole suite of genes from Artemisia into the tobacco genome. Some of the transformed plants, pictured, produced large amounts of artemisinic acid, suggesting that enough artemisinin could be made using tobacco to meet global demand for anti-malarial drugs, ultimately enabling more patients to gain access to treatment.
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.