Australian tobacco may help treat disease

Novel tobacco plant varieties may prove to be a veritable cornucopia of cures. 

The $10.5 million project, called Newcotiana, sees Queensland University of Technology scientists join a large European collaboration. Its purpose is to develop a toolkit of plant breeding techniques using the genome of the native Australian tobacco plant (Nicotinia benthamiana) as a template.

These techniques will be used to develop strains of tobacco plants that will serve as ‘biofactories’, producing tailored proteins and molecules for use in pharmaceuticals. 

Peter Waterhouse, one of the lead researchers, has already sequenced 85% of the 60,000 genes making up the native tobacco plant. He plans to demystify the rest through the highly advanced gene sequencing equipment and assembling technologies afforded by this project. The research team will share the information through an open source website, opening up a realm of possibilities for research and medicine. 

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