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When Bill Gates bankrolled UC Berkelely “bioengineer” Jay Keasling to launch corporate genetic engineering firm Amyris, Gates’s professed goal was the creation of a cheap antimalarial drug to replace the plant derivative armtemisin.

Produced from the wormwood plant Artemisia, the drug is the most widely used compound to clear the body of the parasite which causes the devastating tropical killer.

Gates and Amyris founder Jay Keasling announced they would create the drug from a genetically tweaked intestinal microbe, producing a product that would radically reduce the price to consumers in Africa and Asia.

By the time they had turned over the process to pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis for non-profit commercial production, any thought of “cheaper” had vanished. The chemical will sell for the same price as the naturally derived product, while potentially devastating the lives of peasant farmers who currently produce enough of the crop to meet all current needs.

But the Big Pharma player would get access to more markets, and their representatives could peddle other for-profit drugs – a win for Sanofi-Aventis, but a loss for thousands of peasant farmers.

Amyris went on to repurpose itself as an agrofuel company, partnering with French oil giant Total to launch pilot programs in Brazil, where sugar cane is the feedstock of choice – a crop that relies of massive land-clearing efforts, including newly designated sites in the Amazon rain forest.