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Yeast brew up anti-malarials

Bioengineers program the microbe to produce artemisinin precursor -- and at potentially lower cost, they argue

Susan Brown
Bioengineers have programmed yeast to produce a precursor to the potent antimalarial drug artemisinin, they report in this week's Nature. They argue that the engineered cells, if scaled up to industrial-sized batches, could pump out the drug efficiently and for less than it costs to extract it from plants, currently the only source of the drug.Malaria is now resistant to the older and far cheaper drug chloroquine, making artemisinins "the most effective antimalarial drugs we have," Nick White, director of research in Southeast Asia for Wellcome Trust, told The Scientist. "Development of an inexpensive yeast source which could be scaled up for industrial production is very exciting."Artemisinins are currently produced using the Chinese herb wormwood (Artemisia annua), cultivated in Africa and its native China. However, the plant must grow for two years before harvest and then yields only 1% of its dry weight in...

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