About My Health Careers Internship MedBlogs Contact us
Medindia LOGIN REGISTER
Advertisement

Home-brewed Morphine Made Possible by Genetically Engineered Yeast

by Shirley Johanna on May 20, 2015 at 2:01 PM
Font : A-A+

Home-brewed Morphine Made Possible by Genetically Engineered Yeast

A chemical pathway for producing opiates from genetically modified yeast has been discovered by scientists from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and the University of California, Berkeley.

The discovery could lay the foundation for low-cost drugs, anti-cancer therapeutics and antibiotics. But scientist fear it also opens door for drugs like heroin derived from morphine. Other experts agreed, saying anyone with basic skills could use such a yeast to churn out morphine, codeine and drugs using a simple home-brew beer kit.

Advertisement

The discovery, published in the scientific journal Nature Chemical Biology, comes on the heels of a study published last month in the journal PLOS ONE. Together, the papers describe key steps towards bio-engineering yeast that would feed on sugar and exude opiates and other therapeutic drugs.

The goal is to provide cheaper and possibly less addictive painkillers from a dependable source, as compared to the poppy.

In Monday's study, synthetic biologists at the University of California at Berkeley inserted an enzyme gene from beets to coax yeast into converting tyrosine - an amino acid easily derived from sugar - into a compound called reticuline.
Advertisement

Reticuline is a molecular "hub", meaning it is the springboard for making morphine, codeine and oxycodone, as well as anti-spasmodic drugs like papaverine.

The team did not go on to make these drugs, but the process of going from reticuline to codeine and morphine in yeast is already known. What had been missing in the knowledge chain was getting from tyrosine to reticuline.

The discovery may be a boon in pharmaceutics, but it also "dramatically speeds up the clock for when home-brewing drugs could become a reality," the researchers cautioned.

"We're likely looking at a timeline of a couple of years, not a decade or more, when sugar-fed yeast could reliably produce a controlled substance," said John Dueber, who co-led Monday's paper.

"The time is now to think about policies to address this area of research. The field is moving surprisingly fast, and we need to be out in front so that we can mitigate the potential for abuse."

Make-your-own morphine?

A group of leading academics rammed home a similar message.

In a bluntly-worded commentary in Nature, the leading journal of the Nature group, the trio said the way was now open for engineering a yeast strain that would do the whole drug-making trick.

That, in turn, offered golden opportunities for criminals if this strain fell into the wrong hands.

"In principle, anyone with access to the yeast strain and basic skills in fermentation would be able to grow morphine-producing yeast using a home-brew kit for beer-making," said the commentary, headed by Kenneth Oye, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

"If the modified yeast strain produced 10 grams of morphine, users would need to drink only one to two milliliters of the liquid to obtain a standard prescribed dose."

In addition to tighter lab security and tougher laws, the trio called for yeast strains to be engineered to produce drugs with limited street value, such as the painkiller thebaine.

Strains could also be engineered so that the yeast requires unusual food or laboratory conditions to thrive, thus raising the technological bar for gangs.

But another commentator wondered if the genie was not already out of the bottle.

"One would not have to obtain the safeguarded strain," Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering, was quoted as saying by Britain's Science Media Centre.

"The information in this paper, combined with DNA synthesis, could be readily applied to rebuild the strain without ever gaining access to the physical DNA or strain from the authors."

Source: Medindia
Advertisement

Advertisement
News A-Z
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
News Category
What's New on Medindia
Can Adjusting Fatty Acid Intake Improve Mood in Bipolar Disorder Patients?
Insulin Resistance Doubles the Risk of Major Depressive Disorder
Emotional Healing
View all

Medindia Newsletters Subscribe to our Free Newsletters!
Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

More News on:
Cannabis Drug Abuse Candida Diet Histoplasmosis 

Recommended Reading
The Importance of Yeast in Beer Brewing
Beer yeasts produce chemicals that mimic the aroma of fruits in order to attract flies that can ......
Yeast can Cure Themselves of Prions
Protein misfolding and clumping associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's can sometimes be ......
Novel Longevity Pathway Identified by Yeast Study
To get clues about everlasting life, ancient philosophers took to alchemy...
Genetic Clues on Drug Response Provided by Yeast
The genetic and environmental factors related to drug reactions has been untangled by the ......
Candida Diet
It is possible to reverse Candida infection through a strictly followed Candida diet plan. Candida d...
Cannabis
Cannabis has a long history of medicinal, recreational, and industrial use and comes from a bushy pl...
Drug Abuse
The use of Drugs for reasons other than its prescribed recommendation, is known as Drug abuse or sub...
Histoplasmosis
Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection caused by breathing spores of the fungus from bird or bat dropp...

Disclaimer - All information and content on this site are for information and educational purposes only. The information should not be used for either diagnosis or treatment or both for any health related problem or disease. Always seek the advice of a qualified physician for medical diagnosis and treatment. Full Disclaimer

© All Rights Reserved 1997 - 2021

This site uses cookies to deliver our services. By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Cookie Policy, Privacy Policy, and our Terms of Use