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Posts Tagged ‘Ho Chi Minh’

BY CONSTANCE CASEY

BEDIT_Tu_Youyou_in_1950s

Dr. Tu Youyou during the 1950’s.

Artemisia annua, a common roadside weed, is one of the humblest of the several hundred Artemisia species found all around the world. It’s dull and ragged, but it is instrumental in bringing a Chinese scientist to Stockholm to receive a Nobel Prize this December. The species is a shabby version of Artemisia ‘Powis Castle,’ familiar to gardeners for its lacy silvery foliage. Back in the 1960s Dr. Tu Youyou screened 2,000 traditional Chinese remedies in search of a new treatment for malaria. The malaria-causing parasite had grown resistant to quinine and other earlier drugs. Ho Chi Minh, in desperation because his soldiers were dying, appealed to Mao Tse-tung for help, and Mao set Tu to work. She found the clue in a 1,700-year-old manuscript that advised sweet wormwood, Artemisia annua’s common name, for intermittent fevers, a common malaria symptom. She found that an extract of the herbivore-repellent sesquiterpenoid lactones that give Artemisia its distinctive bitter scent killed the malaria-causing parasite. Born in 1930, Tu is still at work at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing. You (you) go, girl.

Constance Casey, a former New York City Parks Department gardener, is a contributing editor to LAM.

Credit: By Xinhua News agency [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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