A synonym for this species is Nicotiana suaveolens var. cordifolia, a description given by George Bentham in Flora Australiensis in 1868. This was transferred to Nicotiana benthamiana by Karel Domin in Bibliotheca Botanica (1929), honoring the original author in the specific epithet.
The plant was used by people of Australia as a stimulant, containing nicotine and other alkaloids, before the introduction of commercial tobacco (N. tabacum and N. rustica). Indigenous names for it include tjuntiwari and muntju. It was first collected on the north coast of Australia by Benjamin Bynoe on a voyage of HMS Beagle in 1837.
The herbaceous plant is found amongst rocks on hills and cliffs throughout the northern regions of Australia. Variable in height and habit, the species may be erect and up to 1.5 metres (59.1 in) or sprawling out no taller than 200 millimetres (7.9 in). The flowers are white.
N. benthamiana has been used as a model organism in plant research. For example, the leaves are rather frail and can be injured in experiments to study ethylene synthesis. Ethylene is a plant hormone which is secreted, among other situations, after injuries. Using gas chromatography, the quantity of ethylene emitted can be measured. Due to the large number of plant pathogens able to infect it, N. benthamiana is widely used in the field of plant virology. It is also an excellent target plant for agroinfiltration.
N. benthamiana has a number of wild strains across Australia, and the laboratory strain is an extremophile originating from a population that has retained a loss-of-function mutation in Rdr1 (RNA-dependent RNA polymerase 1), rendering it hypersusceptible to viruses.
COVID-19 vaccine development
The Quebec City-based, biotechnology company, Medicago Inc., uses N. benthamiana as a "factory" to produce virus-like particles over short incubation periods (days) and in high volume, enabling rapid manufacturing capability for a potential COVID-19 vaccine. In July 2020, Medicago began a Phase I clinical trial to test the safety and immunogenicity of the Medicago COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
- Derevnina, Lida; Kamoun, Sophien; Wu, Chih‐hang (20 December 2018). "Dude, where is my mutant? Nicotiana benthamiana meets forward genetics". New Phytologist. 221 (2): 607–610. doi:10.1111/nph.15521. PMID 30569612.
- "Nicotiana benthamiana". Australian Plant Name Index (APNI), IBIS database. Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Australian Government.
- Patton J (9 August 2014). "How Owensboro tobacco grew a possible miracle drug to treat Ebola". Lexington Herald-Leader.
- "Nicotiana benthamiana". FloraBase. Western Australian Government Department of Parks and Wildlife.
- Van der Hoorn, Renier A. L.; Laurent, Franck; Roth, Ronelle; De Wit, Pierre J. G. M. (April 2000). "Agroinfiltration Is a Versatile Tool That Facilitates Comparative Analyses of Avr9/Cf-9-Induced and Avr4/Cf-4-Induced Necrosis". Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions. 13 (4): 439–446. doi:10.1094/MPMI.2000.13.4.439. PMID 10755307.
- Bally, Julia; Nakasugi, Kenlee; Jia, Fangzhi; Jung, Hyungtaek; Ho, Simon Y.W.; Wong, Mei; Paul, Chloe M.; Naim, Fatima; Wood, Craig C.; Crowhurst, Ross N.; Hellens, Roger P.; Dale, James L.; Waterhouse, Peter M. (2 November 2015). "The extremophile Nicotiana benthamiana has traded viral defence for early vigour". Nature Plants. 1 (11): 15165. doi:10.1038/nplants.2015.165. PMID 27251536.
- "Technologies: Production platform". Medicago Inc. 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
- Vishwadha Chander (2020-07-14). "Canada's Medicago begins human trials of plant-based COVID-19 vaccine". National Post. Reuters. Retrieved 2020-07-14.
- Clinical trial number NCT04450004 for "Safety, Tolerability and Immunogenicity of a Coronavirus-Like Particle COVID-19 Vaccine in Adults Aged 18-55 Years" at ClinicalTrials.gov
- St. Philip, Elizabeth; Favaro, Avis; MacLeod, Meredith (2020-07-14). "The hunt for a vaccine: Canadian company begins human testing of COVID-19 candidate". CTV News. Retrieved 2020-07-14.