PerspectivePlant Science

The Botanical Solution for Malaria

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Science  15 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5963, pp. 279-280
DOI: 10.1126/science.1184780

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Summary

For thousands of years, Chinese herbalists used leaves from the plant Artemisia annua to treat numerous illnesses, including malaria. Today, the plant's natural antimalarial compound—a sesquiterpene lactone (and endoperoxide) called artemisinin—is the most effective drug for combating malarial infections (see the figure). A major hurdle in using this compound to treat malaria—estimated to cause 300 to 500 million cases and over 1 million deaths each year, worldwide—has been producing enough artemisinin to meet world demand. Attempts to efficiently extract sufficient quantities have been slowly improving. Now Graham et al. (1) have paved the way to fast-track breeding varieties of the A. annua plant with highly desirable genetic traits. On page 328 of this issue, the authors report a genetic map of the plant and identify key loci that could improve agricultural yields, decrease production costs, ensure a steady global supply of the drug, and improve grower confidence in the crop.