How Kentucky tobacco grew a possible miracle drug for Ebola problem

08/10/2014 9:08 AM

08/11/2014 9:29 AM

When two American aid workers came down with the deadly Ebola virus recently, an experimental treatment materialized seemingly out of nowhere. How did a possible miracle drug for one of the deadliest diseases in Africa come to be grown half a world away in a small town in Kentucky?

Because of chewing tobacco, malaria, Charles Darwin and Australia.

For decades, tobacco has been a solution in search of the right problem, and Ebola might be that problem.

In the 1990s, when smoking rates slipped below 30 percent, Kentucky tobacco farmers began to look for another way to make money. And a lot of eyes turned to Daviess County.

There had always been a lot of tobacco grown in the Owensboro area, including acres of a variety known as "dark air-cured" for Pinkerton, a local chewing tobacco company.

But what was growing there now was different: it would never be smoked or dipped.

A California start-up called Biosource Technologies was paying Daviess County farmers to grow genetically altered tobacco that could produce pharmaceuticals.

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