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Keywords:

  • artemisinin;
  • Nicotiana;
  • genetic engineering;
  • sesquiterpene

Summary

Artemisinin, in the form of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), is currently the most important compound in the treatment of malaria. The current commercial source of artemisinin is Artemisia annua, but this represents a relatively expensive source for supplying the developing world. In this study, the possibility of producing artemisinin in genetically modified plants is investigated, using tobacco as a model. Heterologous expression of A. annua amorphadiene synthase and CYP71AV1 in tobacco led to the accumulation of amorphadiene and artemisinic alcohol, but not artemisinic acid. Additional expression of artemisinic aldehyde Δ11(13) double-bond reductase (DBR2) with or without aldehyde dehydrogenase 1 (ALDH1) led to the additional accumulation dihydroartemisinic alcohol. The above-mentioned results and in vivo metabolic experiments suggest that amorphane sesquiterpenoid aldehydes are formed, but conditions in the transgenic tobacco cells favour reduction to alcohols rather than oxidation to acids. The biochemical and biotechnological significance of these results are discussed.