We are very grateful for the research support we receive and are keen to share our science, activities and experiences with the public. We hope you find them interesting!

Check out Nature Chemistry's blog 'theScepticalChymist' for an interview with Elaine http://blogs.nature.com/thescepticalchymist/2017/03/reactions-elaine-oreilly.html

THE GROUP HELPING AT SCIENCEINTHEPARK2017 http://nottsbsa.org/articles/fantastic-science-park/

International Women's Day

It’s International Women’s Day! One outstanding female scientist is Tu Youyou, a Chinese chemist who won a Nobel Prize in 2015 for her discovery of artemisinin, which is now one of the most important drugs in our arsenal against malaria.

Artemisinin was discovered by Tu Youyou’s group against the backdrop of the proxy war against the USA in Vietnam, where malaria was an enormous problem for both sides since it incapacitated a significant proportion of troops [1]. To find a solution, the Chinese turned to their well-documented heritage of traditional medicines. They methodically tested different herbs that were used against malaria and found that extracts from Artemisia annua displayed exceptional antimalarial activity. [2]

The active component was isolated and in 1975 its chemical structure was elucidated. Later, chemists developed similar drugs, some of which were even more potent, by making small alterations to the structure of artemisinin.

One problem shared by many plant-derived drugs is variability in the content of the active compound. It is possible to breed varieties that produce larger

amounts of artemisinin, but changes in environmental factors such as temperature, nutrient availability, time of harvest etc. can still cause variations in artemisinin levels [3]. To avoid gambling the supply of artemisinin on the vagaries of Nature, several other approaches for the production of artemisinin-type drugs have been devised.

One approach is “total synthesis” i.e. production of the drug from scratch using the methods of organic chemistry. However, since artemisinin is quite a complex molecule it is difficult to design a process which is efficient enough to compete with simply growing the plant. [4]

There’s an alternative approach to the production of artemisinin which uses biocatalysis - the same type of thing we do in the O’Reilly Group. This route obviates the need to grow the plant at all. The genes responsible for production of artemisinin are instead inserted into baker’s yeast, which is easily grown on a large scale to produce the drug at very low cost. [5]

Image credits:
Artemisia annua: Picture by Andrea Moro - Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share-Alike 3.0 License

1. Beadle, C. and Hoffman, S.L., 1993. History of Malaria in the United States Naval Forces at War: World War I Through the Vietnam Conflict. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 16 (2), pp.320–329. Available at: http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/16/2/320.abstract
2. Hsu, E., 2006. Reflections on the “discovery” of the antimalarial qinghao. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 61(6), pp.666–670. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1885105/
3. Delabays, N., Darbellay, C. and Galland, N., 2002. Variation and Heritability of Artemisinin Content in Artemisia annua L. In: C. Wright, ed., Artemisia, 1st ed. London: Taylor & Francis, pp.197-210.
4. Wang, Z., Yang, L., Yang, X. and Zhang, X., 2014. Advances in the Chemical Synthesis of Artemisinin. Synthetic Communications, 44(14), pp.1987–2003. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/…/a…/10.1080/00397911.2014.884225
5. Paddon et al., 2013. High-level semi-synthetic production of the potent antimalarial artemisinin. Nature, 496(7446), pp.528–532. Available at: http://www.nature.com/…/jo…/v496/n7446/full/nature12051.html