The world is in dire need of cheap drugs to combat malaria. Malaria may seem like a disease from the distant past, but world-wide, it still exacts a large toll. Even worse, today’s malaria parasites are often resistant to the standard anti-malarial drugs. Newer and more effective drugs exist, but these drugs are well out of the price range of the patients in the developing world who need them.
Part of the problem is that the newer anti-malarial drugs come from plants. For thousands of years, humans have been getting their drugs from plants. While plants make a wide range of pharmacologically active compounds, they are not very practical: they can be difficult to cultivate in large quantities, their chemical yield can be unreliable, and the product we’re interested in can be expensive to isolate from other chemicals made by the plant. Add all that up and plant-derived drugs are too expensive for the people who need them. But there may be a solution: drugs made from bacteria (and other microbes).