Using NBTs to turn tobacco plants into health-promoting biofactories

Using new breeding techniques
The EU funded research and innovation project aims to make use of plant new breeding techniques and technologies to produce medicine, cosmetics and other products from tobacco plants.

Researchers from Spain and eight other countries hope to create varieties of tobacco plants that contain substances of high value using New Breeding Techniques (NBTs).

Researchers at the Molecular and Cellular Plant Biology Institute (IBMCP), part of the Universität Politècnica de València, along with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), are co-ordinating the NEWCOTIANA project. The projects is a €7.2m European initiative financed by the Horizon 2020 programme. The EU funded research and innovation project aims to make use of plant new breeding techniques and technologies to produce medicine, cosmetics and other products from tobacco plants.

What is tobacco?

  • Native to tropical America, the plant is a part of the nightshade family. It is widely cultivated in warm regions, especially in the USA and China; and
  • The nicotine-rich leaves of the plant are cured by a process of drying and fermentation for smoking or chewing.

Science has established the tobacco plant as harmful to people’s health, however, the plants can also be used to provide beneficial effects for its users. The NEWCOTIANA project proposes to apply high accuracy new breeding techniques to turn the leaves and any of a similar species called Nicotiana benthamiana into biofactories for substances that will promote health factors, such as:

  • Anti-ageing;
  • Anti-inflammatory agents;
  • Vaccines;
  • Antibodies; and
  • Medicines.

New breeding techniques including the CRISPR technique – which is also known as the ‘genome editor’ – offer opportunities to improve crops. Other NBTs researchers will apply include new grafting techniques or transitory gene transferring systems.

Diego Orzáez, researcher for the CSIC and co-ordinator of the NEWCOTIANA project, said: “We will generate new varieties of tobacco and Nicotiana benthamina that safely work as biofactories to harvest medical substances of high added value.”

The NEWCOTIANA project will contribute to refreshing traditional tobacco cultivation, creating new healthy uses for the plant. In turn, these new uses will revitalise rural areas in line with economic growth.

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