Scientists have pioneered a ‘simple, elegant solution’ that could drastically reduce the number of deaths caused by malaria.

The drug typically used to treat the disease, artemisinin, has supply issues but new research has shown it can be rapidly and cheaply produced from moss. It is a major breakthrough in the fight against malaria, which caused the deaths of more than 400,000 in 2015, according to the World Health Organization.

The synthetic biology study was supported by the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education and the University of Malaysia, and led by a team from the Technical University of Denmark.

“This moss produces like a factory,” explained Henrik Toft Simonsen, of Department of Biotechnology and Biomedicine of the Technical University of Denmark, one of the paper’s authors. “It produces artemisinin efficiently without the precursor engineering or subsequent chemical synthesis that yeast and tobacco require. This is what we hope for in science: a simple, elegant solution.”

He added: “It will be a great day if scientists can eradicate malaria worldwide. This is a disease that affects 200 to 300 million people every year. It’s especially deadly for kids.”