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Synthetic Yeast to Brew Up Vital Malaria Drug

from New Scientist

A synthetic organism could be producing enough of a key malaria drug to treat the world within three years.

A species of yeast has been fitted with synthetic genes that make a compound called artemisinin, which is used to treat multi-drug resistant strains of malaria. The chemical is currently extracted from a Chinese wormwood shrub called Artemisia annua, but this is a relatively expensive process.

Jay Keasling, of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues announced 2 years ago that they had engineered artimisinic acid-producing yeast by inserting around 12 synthetic genes which had been copied from A. annua and several other species. They have now optimised the process and are scaling it up for industrial production in partnership with drugs giant Sanofi-Aventis.

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