A new hybrid plant used in anti-malarial drug production, developed by scientists at the University of York’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), is now registered as a new variety in China.
Developed through CNAP’s Artemisia Research Project, the plant is believed to be the first instance of Chinese registration for an Artemisia annua variety bred outside China. Since China is the world’s largest grower of Artemisia, the plant can now contribute even more to the global production of the anti-malarial drug artemisinin.
Artemisia annua, also known as Sweet Wormwood, originates from Asia and has been used in China to treat fevers for more than 2000 years. CNAP’s project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, used fast-track plant breeding to develop many new hybrids which then underwent rigorous field-trialling in Africa and Asia. A single robust F1 hybrid was selected for its excellent biomass features and ability to produce good concentrations of artemisinin in its leaves.
With Chinese registration taking two years of extensive field trials against known Chinese varieties, the plant was grown commercially in Africa for three years under the name of Hyb8001r. Now, Hyb8001r has been given a new Chinese name: 药客佳蒿1号, pronounced YaoKe JiaHao YiHao – the first word sounds like York and means ‘medicine people’; the other words mean ‘good Artemisia variety’ and ‘number one in the series’.
Professor Ian Graham, Head of the University of York’s Department of Biology, said: “The ability to sell and distribute seeds in China demonstrates the wide impact of York’s excellent research. I am pleased that we have reached this milestone which will enable us to work more closely with Chinese growers to deliver this vitally important anti-malarial medicine.”
Seed from the new variety is produced in partnership with East-West Seed, an international seed company that will market the new variety in China. Bert van der Feltz, Senior Vice President of East-West Seed, said: “We are pleased to be in a position to produce and supply F1 hybrid seed for this essential medicinal crop. Variety registration in China is an endorsement of the competitiveness of the hybrid seed and opens doors for us to supply to the world’s largest producer of this vital anti-malarial compound.”
The CNAP Artemisia Research Project is directed by Professor Ian Graham (2006-present) and was co-directed by Professor Dianna Bowles (2006-2012, now Emeritus), with funding from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since 2006, CNAP has developed improved varieties of Artemisia annua for the production of artemisinin destined for the Artemisinin-combination therapy (ACT) supply chain.