Genetically-engineered tobacco plant is said to be almost nicotine-free


A French tobacco producer checks his dried tobacco leaves. German researchers have developed a tobacco plant with very low levels of nicotine. — AFP

Researchers say they have created a kind of tobacco that’s almost entirely nicotine-free, an achievement that could pave the way for a new kind of cigarette that’s far less addictive.

According to German technology university TU Dortmund, their researchers have managed to genetically modify a tobacco plant called Virginia Smoking Tobacco, so that its concentration of the highly-addictive substance was decreased substantially to one four-hundredth of its previous concentration.

The World Health Organisation and several other health bodies have called on governments to investigate reducing the amount of nicotine – the main addiction-causing substance – in cigarettes, alongside 4,800 other chemicals contained in the smoke, of which around 70 are probably carcinogenic.

“Instead of 16 milligrammes, every gramme of tobacco now only contains 0.04mg of nicotine,” lead author Felix Stehle said of the new tobacco they had developed. “Globally, no one has so far been able to reduce the nicotine value by that much.”

The researchers, who published their results in Plant Biotechnology Journal, said they used a genetic scissor technology to cut out six genes relevant for nicotine production. Though the plant was able to reconstruct the missing genes, the reconstructions were faulty.

Stehle said the process was probably applicable to any tobacco plant. – dpa

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