The first genetic map of the world’s most important medicinal plant, Artemisia annua, was published on Thursday in the journal Science. Artemisia is the source of artemisinin, a key ingredient in antimalarial drugs.
Plant scientists at York University, who prepared the genetic map, are already using the map to breed higher-yielding strains of Artemisia. Existing wild plants produce only small amounts of artemisinin, which is therefore too scarce and too expensive to meet the huge requirement for malaria drugs in the developing world.“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,” said York Professor Dianna Bowles. “This is a really tight deadline and we can only do it with the benefit of the new knowledge provided by the map.”