Monday, August 11, 2014

Tobacco to the Rescue

   Tobacco, that comforting but deadly plant that has sickened and killed so many people over five centuries, is being used to grow an experimental serum for treating Ebola.
   The serum has been given to two American aid workers being treated for Ebola in Atlanta, Georgia. They contracted the deadly virus while caring for Ebola patients in Liberia and were flown home in an effort to save their lives.
   The serum is produced by injecting a compound of antibodies into genetically modified tobacco plants. The plants then build proteins that are extracted and purified into a serum.
   It is not known yet whether the serum is completely effective in treating the virus, which kills roughly sixty per cent of people who contract it. More research will determine whether the tobacco-produced serum is a miracle drug against Ebola.
   Tobacco also might play a role in saving the environment. It is being tested as a biofuel for aircraft. Boeing and South African Airways and a company specializing in new aviation fuels are producing fuel from tobacco seed oil. Eventually they hope to be able to use entire tobacco plants to produce the fuel.
   Aviation biofuels are said to reduce carbon emissions by fifty to eighty per cent. Tobacco biofuel is nicotine free.

   All this is more evidence that tobacco is one of planet’s most intriguing plants. More on the fascinating history of the plant can be found in Smoke Signals: The Native Takeback of North America’s Tobacco Industry (Dundurn 2012).
   Also here's a link to some questions and answers about the Ebola serum:

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