Synthetic Biology Offers New Hope For Malaria Victims

Synthetic Biology Offers New Hope For Malaria Victims

In a preview of things to come from the fledgling scientific field of “synthetic biology,” researchers with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Physical Biosciences Division (PBD) and the University of California at Berkeley’s Chemical Engineering Department are developing a simple and much less expensive means of making one of the most promising and potent of all the new antimalarial drugs.

By adding new genes and engineering a new metabolic pathway in Escherichia coli bacteria, the researchers can quickly and cheaply synthesize a precursor to the chemical compound artemisinin. This next-generation antimalarial drug has proven to be effective against strains of the malaria parasite that are resistant to current front-line drugs, but it is far too expensive right now for the countries in Africa and South America where it is needed most.

“By inserting genes from three separate organisms into the E. coli, we’re creating a bacterial strain that can produce the artemisinin precursor, amorphadiene,” says chemical engineering professor Jay Keasling, who is leading the research. “We are now attempting to clone the remaining genes needed for the E. coli to produce artemisinin.”
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Now they need to get compounds that give resistance to express in corn or something that people eat so they don’t get the disease in the first place.

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