Doctors may prescribe yeast as there are growing worries about the supply of opium poppies. If you are going through severe pain, you may want to opt for yeast. Recently, genetically engineered yeasts have been proven to be effective in producing opiates like oxycodone and morphine.
- Opiates are used as cough suppressants and as painkillers.
- Most that are widely used are produced only from the Papaver somniferum or opium poppies.
- The demand for such drugs has increased dramatically but farmed poppies are not much.
- Around 50% are grown on the island of Tasmania in Australia.
- Poor growing seasons may certainly affect its availability.
There are certain opiates such as morphine that are naturally made by poppies.
While drug manufacturing companies look for new areas to grow opium poppies, Christina Smolke of Stanford University, California, along with her colleagues are looking into obtaining yeast to make complex drugs with simple sugars. However, some like oxycodone are chemically produced by altering the plant’s natural alkaloid chemical thebaine.
In 2008, Smolke inserted several genes which included some opium poppy into the yeasts. The result was simple sugar molecules that were then turned into salutaridine, a complex precursor of opiates. Lately, Smolke found a solution to the other end of this pathway, engineering yeasts to make use of thebaine and synthesize the outcome, including oxycodone.
Smolke reveals that they are close to completion with only a few steps left in the procession. First is to combine two stages in a strain of yeast and then to find a solution for the last few steps which are getting the yeast to make salutaridine from thebaine and completing pathway to opiate product from sugar.
The researchers revealed that there are a lot of benefits that yeast has over poppies.
Smolke believes that once the system is completed, one 1,000-litre tank would be able to produce as much morphine as 1 hectare of poppies. Smolke further notes that the method may increase security. She says that it could be difficult or even impossible to obtain thousands of acres of opium poppies in the open. Also, the yeast are expected to be grown in closed fermenters, in secure facilities.
Yeast-made opiates could struggle to completely usurp opium poppies.
The head of opiate research and development at GlaxoSmithKline, Tim Bowser reveals that the very same understanding used in the yeast technology is assisting opiate production more efficiently in poppies. Also, Bowser thinks that this method has to be low-cost and highly efficient before it would be able to replace opium poppies.
Despite the competition between the two, the yeast method is expected to open a world of possibilities. Tweaking the genes that yeast expresses, Smolke believes that this technique may be used to create new and potentially better opiates. The yeasts may also be engineered with particular conditions and that genetic barcoding may be used to trace illicit sources.
Not all are anxious concerning home-brewed opiates.
The synthetic biologist of the University of Texas, Austin, Andrew Ellington calls such worries “overblown.” Ellington says that the idea to create small quantities of opiates by fermentation and expect it to dwarf the problem of illicit drugs from poppies is a laughable matter. However, some experts disagree as yeast is more commonly available than poppy fields.