Scientists Discover Gene that Doubles Artemisinin Production in Artemisia annua Plant
The plant Artemisia annua has been used for more than 2,000 years in
traditional Chinese medicine to treat intermittent fevers. The artemisinin
molecule - the active ingredient synthesized in this plant's trichomes - is
the main component of malaria treatments worldwide. But the low content
produced by the plant and the high cost of its chemical synthesis result in
a scarce and costly drug.
An international team of researchers led by the Centre for Research in
Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) and Sequentia Biotech S.L. has been able to
obtain, through genetic engineering, Artemisia annua plants that produce
twice as much artemisinin. The research team has identified a gene involved
in the formation of plant trichomes and in the synthesis of terpenes, such
as artemisinin. The AaMYB1 gene has a dual function: it promotes trichome
formation in the leaves and artemisinin synthesis inside the trichomes.
Soraya Pelaz, CRAG researcher and senior author of the study said, "By
manipulating this gene, we have managed to grow plants which contain much
more artemisinin than their wild-type counterparts."
The researchers at CRAG designed transgenic plants that overexpressed the
AaMYB1 gene and found that they accumulated larger doses of artemisinin than
non-genetically modified plants. To confirm the role of AaMYB1 gene in
trichome formation, they searched for similar genes in Arabidopsis thaliana
and found the gene AtMYB61. When this gene was overexpressed in the model
plant, the plant produced more trichomes.
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