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Tobacco Plants Capable of Producing “Artemisinin,” an anti-Malaria Drug: Scientists

Tobacco is a hardy plant and when the gene is inserted, a precursor compound of artemisinin shows up in its broad sturdy leaves

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FILE - A farm worker harvests tobacco leaves at a farm in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 3, 2015. Scientists have found that malaria-fighting compound artemisinin can be grown in tobacco plants. VOA

October 21, 2016: Scientists say they have figured out a way to use tobacco plants to produce artemisinin, a highly effective anti-malaria drug.

Malaria infects an estimated 200 million people each year, resulting in 400,000 deaths. The drug artemisinin is sometimes used to treat the mosquito-borne illness, clearing the parasite from the bloodstream within 48 hours, according to experts. However, it is very expensive.

[bctt tweet=”Artemisinin comes from an herbal plant grown in China called sweet wormwood.” username=””]

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Artemisinin comes from an herbal plant grown in China called sweet wormwood. It takes 18 months to grow, extract and produce only a small amount of the effective compound, according to bioengineer Shashi Kumar at the U.N. International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi.

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“That increases the cost of this drug, and the people who are suffering most and poor are not able to afford this costly drug,” Kumar said. “That is why we are looking at some source which can be grown everywhere, like the African continent or the Indian continent, easily. Tobacco is that crop.”

Kumar and colleagues have figured out a way to insert wormwood genes into tobacco plants.

FILE - А malaria worker is seen carrying a traditional medicine kit in a village near Pailin, Cambodia, Aug. 29, 2009. Scientists have found that conventional kits could be replaced with artemisinin, a cheap but highly effective anti-malaria drug. VOA
FILE – А malaria worker is seen carrying a traditional medicine kit in a village near Pailin, Cambodia, Aug. 29, 2009. Scientists have found that conventional kits could be replaced with artemisinin, a cheap but highly effective anti-malaria drug. VOA

Tobacco is a hardy plant and when the gene is inserted, a precursor compound of artemisinin shows up in its broad sturdy leaves.

Scientists at the U.N. Center tested the effectiveness of tobacco-produced artemisinin on rodents infected with Plasmodium berghei, a parasite that causes malaria in rats and is often used as an experimental model for genetic engineered treatments. Kumar said the artemisinin from tobacco leaves was more effective than the currently available drug.

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But more tests are needed to see whether the tobacco-derived artemisinin drug is equally effective against P. falciparum, the parasite that causes the most dangerous form of the disease in humans.

Kumar and colleagues are now looking at ways to grow the anti-malaria drug in other, more edible plants.

“What we can do [is] we put this drug into edible plants like lettuce or spinach, where you can just make a powder, put that powder in a capsule and the capsule can be stored like in medical stores or anywhere from where the people can easily buy at a very cheap or very affordable price.”

News about tobacco-grown artemisinin was published in the Cell press journal Molecular Plant.

Kumar says no big tobacco companies have come forward volunteering to produce artemisinin. However, he is hopeful, given that the technology will be made freely available, that there will be some takers. (VOA)

  • Ruchika Kumari

    Interesting, Finally Tobacco plants are going to do something good for people.

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Aadhaar Helpline Mystery: French Security Expert Tweets of doing a Full Disclosure Tomorrow about Code of the Google SetUP Wizard App

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Google comes up with a new feature

Google’s admission that it had in 2014 inadvertently coded the 112 distress number and the UIDAI helpline number into its setup wizard for Android devices triggered another controversy on Saturday as India’s telecom regulator had only recommended the use of 112 as an emergency number in April 2015.

After a large section of smartphone users in India saw a toll-free helpline number of UIDAI saved in their phone-books by default, Google issued a statement, saying its “internal review revealed that in 2014, the then UIDAI helpline number and the 112 distress helpline number were inadvertently coded into the SetUp wizard of the Android release given to OEMs for use in India and has remained there since”.

Aadhaar Helpline Number Mystery: French security expert tweets of doing a full disclosure tomorrow about Code of the Google SetUP Wizard App, Image: Wikimedia Commons.

However, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended only in April 2015 that the number 112 be adopted as the single emergency number for the country.

According to Google, “since the numbers get listed on a user’s contact list, these get  transferred accordingly to the contacts on any new device”.

Google was yet to comment on the new development.

Meanwhile, French security expert that goes by the name of Elliot Alderson and has been at the core of the entire Aadhaar controversy, tweeted on Saturday: “I just found something interesting. I will probably do full disclosure tomorrow”.

“I’m digging into the code of the @Google SetupWizard app and I found that”.

“As far as I can see this object is not used in the current code, so there is no implications. This is just a poor coding practice in term of security,” he further tweeted.

On Friday, both the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) as well as the telecom operators washed their hand of the issue.

While the telecom industry denied any role in the strange incident, the UIDAI said that he strange incident, the UIDAI said that some vested interests were trying to create “unwarranted confusion” in the public and clarified that it had not asked any manufacturer or telecom service provider to provide any such facility.

Twitter was abuzz with the new development after a huge uproar due to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman R.S. Sharma’s open Aadhaar challenge to critics and hackers.

Ethical hackers exposed at least 14 personal details of the TRAI Chairman, including mobile numbers, home address, date of birth, PAN number and voter ID among others. (IANS)

Also Read: Why India Is Still Nowhere Near Securing Its Citizens’ Data?