Home-brewing might soon become more than just an innocent pastime. According to an international team of scientists, it is possible to design a new type of brewer’s yeast that can combine various opioids (codeine or morphine) from a common sugar.
Christopher Voight from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology explained that even though he was no part of the research, he believe home-made opiates are not so far in the future.
So far, the technique presented in the latest issue of Nature Chemical Biology is rather inefficient. Researchers found out they needed approximately 300 liters of genetically manipulated yeast in order to obtain only 30 milligrams of morphine.
But according to Voight, it won’t be long until technology and science figures out a way to produce the same dose from just 200 milliliters of yeast culture combined with sugar.
Opioids in general and morphine in particular have been used for centuries as the solution for pain relief. However, they are isolated and manufacturing them was completely dependable on plants compounds, such as opium poppies.
Because they have such a complex molecular structure, chemists have tried in vain to obtain opiates from artificial ingredients. They would keep stumbling at the 15-step of the reaction that takes place in opioid-producing – but not anymore.
According to this international team led by John Dueber of the University of California, Berkeley, scientists have successfully concocted yeast that can complete the first and second part of the reaction.
The process meant taking an important enzyme from sugar beets, genetically manipulating it to encourage production and add that to yeast. After combining the mix with some foreign DNA, the yeast was able to accomplish the reaction that creates opioids.
An earlier recipe provided the rest of the steps, and all that’s left to be done is connect the dots and the steps and see the result of the process. Scientists who have not participated agree on the accuracy of the formula, along with their expressed concern over what this situation means.
Although there is a significant benefit to being able to create more effective and less addictive pain-killers, scientists also have in mind the fact that creating morphine-making yeast is bound to ease access to illegal opiates – which are known to cause severe addiction around the world.
Even though the study’s authors alerted the community before publishing the study, the recipe has been made public. Dueber said that this finding has the potential of making illegal drugs so much easier to grow and distribute; all that’s needed is a home-brew beer-making kit and basic molecular biology knowledge.
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