Sweet wormwood yields invaluable artemisinin, a compound that is highly effective against drug-resistant malaria. The trouble with artemisinin is that it is very expensive. A major part of the cost stems from the fact that wormwood is tricky to grow and artemisinin is challenging to extract from its tissues. Elimination of these challenges would make the antimalarial far more affordable and have the potential to save a lot of lives. Now researchers are reporting that they have found a way to do this by getting tobacco plants to produce artemisinin in copious amounts.
The team behind the new work genetically engineered tobacco to produce artemisinin. This has been done before but the plants always yielded precious little of the compound and often did not grow very well. The team discovered a clever biochemical way around this. More importantly, they are reporting that the artemisinin produced by their engineered plants could be delivered orally to mice infected with malaria and that the drug proved very effective even when it was delivered while still encapsulated within the cells of the tobacco plant.
You can read more in The Economist article that I wrote on this here.