Opium poppy secrets unlocked

By Motorhead · Mar 14, 2010 · ·
  1. Motorhead
    Opium poppy secrets unlocked

    Researchers at the University of Calgary say they have discovered the unique genes that allow the opium poppy to make compounds used to produce such drugs as codeine and morphine.

    Isolating the genes means these painkillers could be made synthetically, in a lab, the researchers say in a report published Sunday in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

    The discovery could also open the door to controlling the production of compounds in the plant.

    The poppy has, for thousands of years, been the source of opiate-based painkillers, but pinpointing just how the plant produces something that soothes our aches and pains has been a mystery — until now, says researcher Jillian Hagel.

    "That day we realized that the needle in the haystack, so to speak, we'd found it, that was definitely something we'd been looking forward to," she says.

    'Lot of quick breathing'

    Fellow researcher Peter Facchini says the discovery, which has been eluding plant biochemists for a half-century, was very exciting.

    "You have these very rare moments where you know you've made a big discovery ... and there's a lot of quick breathing and heart palpitation, but then you realize you're in for another year of hard work," he says.

    "In the best-case scenario, our phone will be ringing off the hook on Monday, with drug companies wanting to know more about this discovery and wanting to know how they can be a part of this," says David Reese, project manager with University Technologies International, which helps U of C researchers commercialize their work.

    Pharmaceutical companies may well cash in, but ultimately, it might be patients in poor countries who benefit the most.

    Opiates are in short supply and that means many in the developing world can't afford the most powerful painkillers. This research could soon make them cheaper.

    March 14, 2010
    CBC News

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  1. Coconut
    Brilliant. Next step: only seeds from "demorphinised" poppies available to be bought legally, giving pharmaceutical giants an absolute monopoly on opiates.
  2. Memoryburner
    Swim somehow feels that this is bad news for everyone not tied to the pharm' companies
  3. shiva_master
    Hopefully a super strain of poppy. Containing who knows how much morphine or other compound in it in high potency.Dont see that happening though.Sounds like these researches are just wanting money if they are wanting major pharmacutica companies to grab on first. Hopefully they make wise decisions with the ones taking the patents over. Could end up good or badGenetic research altering chemicals in plants. We could make apples or pears that contain DMT or 4HO-dmt etc.. for god's sake.
  4. Neznam
    Wonder whether the pharmaceutical industry will pass the savings on to consumers after it finds a cheaper way to produce the product. Doubtful?
  5. G-spotter
    No, they're gonna try and make us believe that it costs more to produce this way, so the prices will increase for pharm opiates!
  6. bubbly nubs
    Is it not possible now? How would isolating the genes enable scientists to synthesis them? Alter the genes in the pods to produce more morphine (although more likely thebaine) maybe but this is FAR from synthesising the chemicals. Am I wrong?
  7. Motorhead
    Canadian scientists uncover poppy's painkilling power

    Breakthrough could mean cheaper codeine, now too expensive for many in the developing world

    [imgl=black]http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=13735&stc=1&d=1268771161[/imgl]Canadian researchers have unlocked the genetic secrets of the poppy plant, raising the possibility of making powerful narcotics from simple raw materials.

    Building on the discovery of two elusive genes that enable the opium poppy to make morphine and codeine, researchers inserted synthetic versions of those genes into yeast and coaxed it to produced the potent painkillers.

    It is an important step in a Canadian project that aims to produce the analgesics from a cheap raw material like sugar, says the University of Calgary's Peter Facchini, who along with his research team member Jillian Hagel discovered the genes. They collaborate with Concordia University's Vincent Martin, who genetically modified yeast to produce the narcotics.

    While obstacles remain, the work raises profound ethical and social issues. It could lead to a cheaper source of codeine, an over-the counter painkiller that is too expensive for many people in the developing world.

    But there is also a risk it could offer an inexpensive new source of illicit, more powerful drugs like heroin, which is made from morphine.

    “It is a typical dilemma of dual-use technologies,” says University of Calgary communications professor Edna Einsiedel, one of several researchers looking at the implications of the federally funded experiments. Nuclear technology, for example, can produce medical isotopes, electricity, or nuclear weapons.

    “While one can try to rely on regulation, there is of course no guarantee about a technology falling into the wrong hands or used for nefarious purposes,” she says.

    The opium poppy is the only plant in the world that makes morphine and codeine, says Dr. Facchini. Both compounds are found in opium, the dried milky sap produced by poppy plants.

    Afghanistan produces 90 per cent of the world's opium. The coalition of Western countries with troops and aid workers in the country has tried various means to eradicate the crop, with mixed results.

    Other countries, including France and Australia, legally grow poppies to make analgesics.

    Since morphine was first isolated from opium more than 200 years ago, people have been trying to piece together the complicate process by which the plants make the drug.

    Dr. Facchini has been working for more than 18 years on the plant and the identification of the genes that make opium poppies so different from closely-related species. These two were particularly hard to find, and have chemical composition that is far different than many scientists in the field expected.

    One of the ultimate goals of the research is to use that information to create a yeast that makes morphine and codeine from sugar or other cheap raw materials, but the researchers say they aren't there yet.

    They have to feed the yeast thebaine, a substance produced by the opium poppy. The plant transforms most of the thebaine it produces into codeine and morphine.

    The genetically modified yeast is able to do the same thing.

    “The yields are not through the roof, not commercial levels. But it is proof of concept,” says Dr. Martin.

    To get the yeast to make morphine from scratch, Dr. Facchini needs to find a few additional poppy genes that are involved earlier in the process.

    “Almost the entire pathway is now known,” he says. “There are still a couple of more genes we are working on.”

    Dr. Facchini and Dr. Hagel published their report about the two new genes in the recent edition of the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

    But the researchers have not yet published results about the yeast that can produce morphine and codeine.

    The cultivation of opium poppies is currently the only legal sources of morphine and codeine, as well as semi-synthetic drugs like oxycodone.

    Morphine, still a staple of modern medicine, is usually administered intravenously. Codeine is much less potent. It is produced is small quantities by opium poppies, but is usually derived from morphine.

    Most of the world's codeine is consumed in six countries, including Canada, says Dr. Facchini.

    “There are whole parts of the world, Africa and other developing nations, who don't have access.”

    March 15, 2010
    Anne McIlroy
    The Globe And Mail
  8. Neznam
    Hmm more affordable drugs. There are certainly both positive and negative aspects of that. Swim loving to abuse drugs, would definitely like this and cannot wait to see how it unfolds.
  9. blink1989

    Exactly what SWIM thought... He actually found it rather disturbing.. Poppy seed tea and even poppy pods would then be useles.. :confused: Hopefully this wont happen for another 10 years or so...
  10. MajorTom
    I dont think this is somthing any of us would be able to comprehend, No offense to everyone else.

    its basically saying ya we know what morphine is and codiene and all the other drugs in a poppy, but now, we actually know how and why the plant produces the morphine/codeine,

    we know the specific genes that trigger the plant to tell itself when and how much morphine/codeine to produce

    thats what I gather from it, but who the fuck am I, what do i know... so dont take my word as the gospel
  11. Paradox
    I worked in a molecular bio lab on genetically modified plants a few years ago, so here goes at explaining how the process works.

    Poppies manufacture the morphine and codeine by sending precursors (usually self-manufactured sugars) through a series of enzymes. Each of these enzymes is coded for by a specific gene sequence, called a codon.

    What they generally will do at a lab like this, is hit the gametes (reproductive cells) with some sort of weak mutagen (something that induces changes in DNA). Then, they grow huge numbers of these plants and test each of them for codeine/morphine content. Some of the plants will have been hit by the mutagen in one of the genes/enzymes necessary for codeine/morphine production. They then take these plants, and (It's a bit more technical than this, but I'll simplify it) sequence their DNA, and compare it against an unmodified poppies sequence. (Ok, just looked it up and apparently the poppy plant hasn't been fully sequenced yet, but given the huge explosions in genetic sequencing technology, they likely have a fairly good working copy in the works.) With 1 poppy that doesn't make morphine, there won't be very good data, as with a non-selective mutagen, the genes will be mutated all over. However, once you have 100 knockout (IE, gene knockout) plants, there will likely be a fairly clear pattern of a certain number of genes controlling the morphine production.

    Once you have those genes, it's relatively simple to copy them and insert them into another animal/plant/unicellular organism like yeast. Certain sequences of viral DNA (Transposing sequences, IIRC) are specifically designed to insert viral DNA into a host organism. Those sequences are usually modified to contain the target gene, along with something that gives resistance to an antimicrobial agent. The yeast is impregnated with the viral DNA, which both gives the producing gene, and the resistance to the antimicrobial. The yeast is then dumped onto a petri dish with the antimicrobial on there and the few cells which survive grow colonies. These colonies are then separated and grown in a culture medium. One of these can then be injected with the next enzyme in the same way.

    Likely the problem they have run into is that the gene that turns *something* into thebanine is necessary to the poppy's survival. That's a much trickier issue and not something I have any experience with.

    Oh, and

  12. RxSurf
    I don't work in any lab, and have very little microbiology and/or genetics background, but that was very interesting. If I wasn't a year away from a Ph.D. in something else, I might have considered heading in this direction! But it's never too late, right? LOL.Thanks for that! :thumbsup:

    I say don't believe the hype. I bet that any kind of "adverse" (for the average person who likes to have a little fun) outcome from this discovery won't be seen for decades.

    But who knows, maybe we'll get a guy on the inside to "misplace" a super-strain of Papaver somniferum and things will really get crazy! LOL. ;)

  13. Paradox
    It's actually far easier than a displaced poppy. All someone would need to do is obtain a sample of the strain of yeast that is making the drug, and from there one could produce as much morphine as their heart could desire, just by feeding basic sugars and proteins to them. SWIY could have a bucket filled with tablescraps that produces morphine.

    In fact, in theory any natural drug could be isolated and produced this way. If one could isolate the genetic sequences from coca, yeast could be made to produce cocaine. From peyote, mescaline. Ect. Unfortunately, this requires a fairly advanced setup and a lot of money...but if the strains ever got out, and were distributed they would essentially make drug prohibition impossible.

    At one point I made sourdough bread by just taking a bucket and putting some yeast into it, filling it with things like sugar, apples, flour, ect. With this strain of yeast, any SWIMmer could produce more than enough opiates to feed any level of addiction/desire for the opiates in a bucket fed off of table scraps.

    As much morphine as an addict could ever want, and practically for free. No addict would have to choose between getting high and eating ever again. Or have to lie or steal to fund their habit.

    It would end the drug war permanently. Anyone could produce kilograms of opiates in their own home.

    Anyone else reminded of the story of Prometheus stealing fire?
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