First Genetic Map Of Malaria Drug Plant Could Increase Crop Yields, Study Says

The first genetic map of the plant Artemisia annua, which could “help scientists develop the species into a high-yielding crop” to fight malaria, was published in a study in the journal Science on Thursday, Reuters reports (Kelland, 1/14).

The plant is used to produce artemisinin, a “potent weapon” in malaria treatments, according to VOA News, which notes that “supplies of the medication are limited because” Artemisia annua is “a low-yielding wild plant.” The news service continues, “As a result, artemisinin costs ten times more than other anti-malarials, so it is used sparingly in combination with other drugs to boost their effectiveness” (Berman, 1/14).

The new genetic map, “drawn up a team led by Dianna Bowles and Ian Graham, of the University of York, will help to alleviate this shortage by accelerating breeding programmes for higher-yielding crops,” London’s Times reports. The research was funded by two grants worth $26 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to the Times (Henderson, 1/15).

Bowles said, “The map is already proving to be an essential tool for us. With our new understanding of Artemisia genetics, we can produce improved, non-GM varieties … much faster than would otherwise be possible,” Reuters reports (1/14). Graham said the scientists’ goal “is to have hybrid seeds that can be released to farmers in the developing world by 2011 or 2012. With a year lag for planting, this would have an impact on supply in 2012 or 2013,” BBC writes (Walton, 1/14).

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