A team of scientists in the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, led by Professor Dianna Bowles and Professor Ian Graham, have made a genetic breakthrough in accelerating anti-malaria development, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
They have created the first genetic map of the medicinal herb Artemesia annua which, according to Professor Graham, is “already proving to be an essential tool for us. With our new understanding of Artemisia genetics, we can produce improved, non-GM varieties of Artemisia much faster than would otherwise be possible.”
Due to their funding, the project will support final development of the new varieties and their transportation to Artemisia producers in Africa and Asia.
Professor Bowles said: “We intend to get high-yielding seed to farmers in the next two to three years in order to supply soaring demand for malaria treatments. This is a really tight deadline and we can only do it with the benefit of the new knowledge provided by the map.”
According to Elspeth Bartlet, External Communications Manager, in some years not enough of the herb is produced and prices shoot up, making anti-malaria treatment more difficult. She said: “This will be positive for growers in developing countries as the crop will be higher-yielding so it will be worth their while to grow it.” Bartlet added that they are all “very happy, both with getting the genetic map published and with receiving the final bit of funding”.