Up to 300 million people die from malaria every year. A female mosquito, riddled with malaria parasites, is responsible for transmitting the disease. The malaria parasites are carried in the mosquito’s saliva, which mingles with a human’s blood once they are bitten. Now in the blood stream, malaria parasites travel to the liver and multiply until they burst out of the liver cells and migrate into red blood cells. The infected individual is overrun with symptoms, ranging from, vomiting, convulsions, anemia, renal failure, tingling skin to coma and ultimately death. The waves of fever typical of malaria correlate with the parasites exploding out of the bulging infected red-blood-cells within the host’s body. This terrible disease is one of the most common in the world.
Medication does exist, but the sad irony is that the poorer countries with the highest concentration of malaria can not afford these artemisinin-based drugs. Artemisinin, the only real effective malaria medication, is derived from wormwood. Its production is an incredibly time consuming and expensive process. With this in mind, Amyris Biotechnologies set out to engineer a microorganism to produce the drug. In a sense, Amyris is now using one microbe to kill another.
|MALARIA ENDEMIC COUNTRIES 2003|
|In most countries with endemic malaria, the
disease risk is limited to certain areas.
A visit to Amyris’ homepage gives readers more of an insight to how much potential there is with biotechnology: “Amyris Biotechnologies is translating the promise of synthetic biology into solutions for real-world problems. Building on advances in molecular, cell and systems biology, we are engineering microbes capable of producing high-value compounds to address major global health and energy challenges. We are employing these living chemical factories to produce novel pharmaceuticals, renewable fuels, and specialty chemicals.”
Amyris has found a way to genetically manipulate microorganisms into producing artemisinin. Amyris succeeded in developing these living medicine factories with the help of U.C Berkeley labs, the Institute for One World Health and with a $ 42 million grant provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Amyris is not only dedicated to fighting malaria, however. Another major venture involves the “development of a fermentation process that uses custom-designed microbes to renewably produce second-generation, high-performance biofuels that are cost-effective and compatible with current automotive and distribution technologies,” explains Amyris. These gas and diesel substitutes are produced with the same feedstocks that are used to make ethanol, such as sugar cane.
Amyris has received worldwide recognition for their innovative ideas: In 2005, Amyris Biotechnologies was named a winner at the World Technology Network. In 2008, history repeated itself when Amyris had the honor of being voted the biofuel category winner at GoingGreen 2008.