If beer can cure malaria, anything is possible. A biochemical process developed at the University of California – Berkeley is using the same techniques for brewing beer to create a nearly endless supply of a crucial component of anti-malarial drugs.
The study was conducted in part by Jay Keasling, a professor of biochemical engineering at the university. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he and other researchers discovered a process for creating artemisinic acid, a rare and expensive chemical that is 95 percent effective against malaria.
Prior to the discovery, artemisinin could be derived only from the sweet wormwood, a tree native to Asia but found throughout the world. Despite the plant’s effectiveness in treating malaria, production of artemisinin-based anti-malarial drugs has been prohibitively expensive for many developing countries where the disease is prevalent.
Scientists used baker’s yeast, a key component of beer brewing, combined with synthetic genes, to produce artemisinic acid. Keasling described the process as very similar to brewing beer: “We put in some sugar and minimal nutrients, and out comes artemisinic acid at the other end.”
This low-cost method of producing artemisinic acid will soon benefit the millions suffering from malaria, a preventable and curable disease. According to the World Health Organization, artimisinin-based therapy is the most effective treatment for the disease.
One child living in Africa dies from malaria every second. With the help of beer, baker’s yeast, and science, low-cost or free anti-malarial drugs based on artimisinic acid will soon be available where they are most needed.
– Kat Henrichs