malaria plant
Plants of hope.

British scientists have unlocked the genetic map of a plant used to cure malaria.

It brings hope to the millions of people suffering from the disease, which is especially prevalent in India and sub Saharan Africa.

Scientists from the University of York said their research paves the way for high-yielding anti-malaria crops in developing countries within two years.

The discovery of the genetic map of the medicinal herb Artemisia annua has been hailed as a significant breakthrough.

Researchers say the new plants they will breed after the discovery will be given to poor farmers who can use them to grow a cash crop that could help build up fragile economies.  

Malaria kills at least one million people every year even though it can be prevented and treated.   The most effective drugs to treat the disease are Artemisinin Combination Therapies.

Increased funding for malaria treatments means demand for ACTs is expected to double from last year’s figures, to around 200 million treatments, by 2012.

But there is currently a shortage of the plant Artemisia annua which is a key ingredient in the drugs.  

Now scientists at the University of York have published the the first genetic map of this species, plotting the location on the plant’s genome of genes, traits and markers associated with high performance in the latest issue of the journal Science.