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Tobacco Plant Transforms into an Antimalarial Drug

Atefa Noorain
Atefa Noorain
June28/ 2016

Tobacco plant is widely known as a carrier of an addictive stimulant drug Nicotine causing chronic disease like Lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases which leads to the death of people worldwide. This Nicotine is present in the leaves of tobacco plant which is dried and used in making cigarette, snuff, cigars, pipe tobacco and chewing tobacco. The view about tobacco plant has been changed after the discovery of antimalarial component produced by genetically modified technique. Preparation of antimalarial drug from the tobacco plant has been in discussion since 2011 when some researchers from Hebrew University Jerusalem tried modifying the plant for the production of antimalarial drug produced by sweet wormwood in temperate Asia.

Malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum transferred through the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquito, also known malarial vectors .Malaria is known to have taken more than 500000 lives all around the world. Artemisinin an antimalarial drug from sweet wormwood plays an important role by killing all the parasites in the patient’s blood. Scientists from Max plank institute have confirmed the growth of antiparasitic component Artemisinin from the tobacco leaves on 14 Jun 2016.World Health Organization has confirmed the Artemsinin combination therapy as a first line treatment for malaria.


Malaria was first discovered in 1880 as a disease caused by parasites. More number of malaria cases is found in poor tropical and subtropical areas of the world. There are 5 parasites known to cause malaria in humans namely

  1. Plasmodium falciparum – Found worldwide and killed around 1 million people every year globally
  2. Plasmodium vivax – Found in Latin America, Asia and Africa
  3. Plasmodium ovale – Found in west Africa
  4. Plasmodium malariae – Found worldwide
  5. Plasmodium knowlesi – Found in Southeast Asia


Extracted from Artemisia annua, commonly known as sweet wormwood. This component is used for treating malaria in the initial stages. Artemisinin is used in combination with partner drugs and is known to kill the major parasites in the first 3 days and rest of the parasites is treated by the partner drug in the patient’s blood. Artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) is preferred by most of the countries for the eradication of malaria. ACT plays a major role in only those countries where the artemisinin sensitive parasites persists, but in places where artemisinin resistant parasites are available face a major risk in future as there is no other major drug which known to kill these parasites and provide immunity against them. Artemisinin mainly acts against the Plasmodium falciparum leading to complete removal of parasites from the patient’s blood. The medicinal herb sweet wormwood has a year to year growth pattern which results in the shortage of antiparasitic drug in the market. Artemisinin is produced by the Artemisia leaves of the herb in a very small amount. This herb can be grown only in few places and thus the researchers have decided to use the genetic engineering technique to increase the yield of the component extracted from this plant. Genetically modifying these tobacco crop plants require maximum number of genes to be inserted in it from the Artemisia annua. All the genes can either be inserted at once in the tobacco plant or can be inserted one after the other. The insertion of genes is nothing but a process to insert the genetic material DNA into the nucleus or the chloroplast of the plant which results in producing a molecule called artemisinic acid that can be transformed into artemisinin with the help of few basic chemical reactions. The yield of artemisinic acid can be increased by transferring the specifically arranged genes present in the chloroplast into the nuclear DNA of the plant.

Discovery of Artemisinin from tobacco plants helps resolves the issue of less availability of antimalarial drug. This discovery lead to the increased production of tobacco crops thus helps in eradication of malaria globally with the genetically modified drug.

Atefa Noorain
Atefa Noorain

Atefa Noorain, (Microbiologist) former Head of the Department of Life Sciences, Assistant Professor of Microbiology at Sujatha Degree College for Women. She worked as an Associate Research Analyst at Thomson Reuters and an Associate Editor of two research journals. She has presented her research work in 3 International Conferences. She has written articles for national journals and international journals. She had been felicitated as a Young Speaker in the last conference. She has worked on Nanoparticles as a part of her research project and won the Best Scientist of the Day award.

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