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Israeli researchers develop Malaria-fighting tobacco

(Xinhua)

09:24, February 13, 2012

JERUSALEM, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- Israeli scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed genetically altered tobacco plants which contain a natural compound that can fight drug- resistant malaria.

Although cigarettes are known to kill millions of people every year, Professor Alexander Vainstein and his research team have found that tobacco plant can be altered to produce "artemisin," an active component in malaria treatment, Israel's 21C news site reported Sunday.

The natural compound artemisin comes from the sweet wormwood plant and can fight drug-resistant malaria, but due to its small quantities and high price, millions of people cannot get access to this remedy.

However, Vainstein and his colleagues spliced the wormwood enzymes that produce artemisin and bred tobacco plants that carry artemisin's genetical code.

Vainstein's development is being marketed through the Hebrew University's Yissum Research Development Company.

"The technology provides, for the first time, the opportunity for manufacturing affordable artemisin by using tobacco plants," said Yissum CEO Yaacov Michlin.

"We hope that this invention will eventually help control ( malaria), for the benefit of many millions of people around the globe, and in particular in the developing world," Michlin said.

Approximately half a billion people suffer from malaria each year in Africa and East Asia, with a child dying every 30 seconds of this disease. Most of them have no means to purchase medicines to treat the illness.

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