Molecular Farming in Artemisia annua, a Promising Approach to Improve Anti-malarial Drug Production

New paper published from the Department of Sequentia Research in collaboration with Soraya Pelaz from the Center for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG), Barcelonaon Frontiers in Plant Science, Plant Biotechnology

Malaria is a parasite infection affecting millions of people worldwide. Even though progress has been made in prevention and treatment of the disease; an estimated 214 million cases of malaria occurred in 2015, resulting in 438,000 estimated deaths; most of them occurring in Africa among children under the age of five. The article aims to review the epidemiology, future risk factors and current treatments of malaria, with particular focus on the promising potential of molecular farming that uses metabolic engineering in plants as an effective anti-malarial solution.

Plant biofarming is proposed here as a sustainable and promising alternative for the production not only of natural herbal repellents for malaria prevention but also for the production of sustainable anti-malarial drugs, like artemisinin (AN).. AN, a sesquiterpene lactone, is a natural anti-malarial compound that can be found in Artemisia annua and has been used for primary parasite infection treatments. However, the low concentration of AN in the plant makes this molecule relatively expensive as well as difficult to meet the current worldwide demand of Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs), especially for economically disadvantaged people in developing countries. The biosynthetic pathway of AN, a process that takes place only in glandular secretory trichomes of A. annua, is relatively well elucidated. Significant efforts have been made using plant genetic engineering to increase production of this compound. These include diverse genetic manipulation approaches, such as studies on diverse transcription factors which have been shown to regulate the AN genetic pathway and other biological processes. Despite results look promising; however, further efforts should be addressed towards theoptimization of the most cost-effective biofarming approaches for synthesis and production of medicines against the malaria parasite.

 

 

 

 

photo: Artemisia glandular secretory trichomes (in green)

 

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