The Newcotiana project funded by the European Commission will revolutionize the way we use tobacco and perceive it. 18 partners are working on this AUD$10.5 million project, that will develop new tobacco varieties to use for the greater good. Tobacco, which was seen as one of the most harmful yet lucrative industries, will now act as biofactories for vaccines and live saving drugs.
Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia, is one of the research partners, working on this project and also the only international one. The team of QUT has been passionately working on sequencing the genome of Australia’s native tobacco plant, scientifically christened Nicotiana benthamiana but better known locally as Pitjuri. it is the very exclusive properties and genetic structure of this plant that has the scientific community aroused.
Tapped as the miracle plant, it has been part of the historic flora of Australia, found in the Western Australian and Northern Territory border. It was introduced to the American research in 1939 by an Australian scientist, but was never really given the import it deserved, always remaining at the level of testing. It has been used extensively as a standard in experiments to assess plant virology. The high protein composition of the plant has come to the rescue of the modern research and pharmaceutical industry. It was used to produce ZMapp, the antibody cocktail administered during the 2015 Ebola outbreak. It is being tested for a number of things, from viral vaccines to therapeutic treatments for breast cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, autoimmune diseases and fungal infections.
What is more incredible is that the plant has more than 60,000 genes, more than any plant found yet. So far only 85 % of those genes have been sequenced, the outcome of what it could bring to the table, after it is sequenced in entirety, is unimaginable.