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Opium Production Now Being Scientifically Created in the Lab

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    Opium, the compound responsible for medications like oxycodone and morphine, is derived from the poppy plant (a not quite as magical version of the poppy seen in the Wizard of Oz's deadly poppy field). There's nothing inherently wrong with this growing process, but poppy farming is only legal in a handful of countries--a measure taken to ensure that opium isn't refined into heroine.

    Now, scientists have figured out how to create opiates in a vat instead, using a variation on the beer brewing process.

    The U.S. has the biggest legal opiate market in the world, but there is very little legal poppy farming, As a result, the U.S. is dependent on other nations to produce opium, which can then be refined into painkillers.

    In a paper in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, researchers at Stanford University detail their work hacking yeast DNA to make opiates. Their ultimate goal: producing opioid-based medicine entirely inside fermentation vats, no external supply chain required.

    There are, according to a Stanford press release, 17 chemical steps involved in making opioid compounds found in medication, some naturally occurring and some that require factories. The researchers, led by bionengineering professor Christina Smolke, want to concentrate all of those steps so that they happen inside yeast cells.

    In their paper, they describe how they have hacked the yeast genome to produce opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone. Specifically, Smolke and her team took thebaine, an opiate from poppies, put it into yeast that was hacked to include genes from a bacterium that eats dead poppy stalks, and ended up with refined opioids. The researchers can generate codeine, morphine, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.

    They write: "Opiates and related molecules are medically essential, but their production via field cultivation of opium poppy Papaver somniferum leads to supply inefficiencies and insecurity. As an alternative production strategy, we developed baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a microbial host for the transformation of opiates."

    There's still more work required before opioids can be completely produced for patients inside vats, however--Smolke expects it will take years to perfect the bioengineered yeast so that it can turn sugar into thebaine at the beginning of the opioid production process. Once that happens, opiates will become cheaper and more efficient to produce than ever before.

    By Ariel Schwartz - Fast Company/Sept. 24, 2014
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


  1. babalooj
    That is so absolutely insane, and sounds like something i'd ever dream about
    Different strains of yeast, each for fermenting a certain opioid???!!!!
  2. thirdeyelasik
    More opioids for everyone! This is why I love that there are people in the world that read books and studied whle I was smiling from ear to ear in a beautiful daze. Seriously though this sounds like it will help the production of these things and can eradicate the whole "your drug addiction is fueling Al-queda" stuff.
  3. heroinhell
    why not enjoy life without opiates? theres a difference between pleasure and happiness
  4. Name goes here
    This is not the right post to have this discussion in.

    I hope that this opium yeast makes it out to the general public. No more pharmaceutical crap in pill form that has unknown long term side effects (think op gelling agent). For people who need opioid based pain relievers, this would be a godsend.
  5. perro-salchicha614
    A difference without much of a distinction...

    On a serious note, I find this incredibly depressing. It just means more drugs being created in laboratories and increased dependence on the pharmaceutical companies and the doctors who prescribe the pills, while whole, natural plant-based drugs remain illegal.
  6. Alien Sex Fiend
    There is at least two reasons why synthetics are better: usa doesn't grow enough poppies for the number of prescriptions that are given, and this makes everything including the cost of a medicine cheaper for a regular joe. And natural drugs cannot be prescribed accurately since alkaloids and potency differ from one harvest to another, naturals have poor quality control.

    Lets face it, everybody won't ever be equally happy and its a fact that USA will never ever legalize opium
  7. perro-salchicha614
    ASF, I agree that it isn't likely that the US will ever legalize opium. However, if scientists can figure out a way to produce opioids in vats, I'm sure that they could figure out a way to selectively breed and cultivate poppies (which can be grown just about anywhere) in order to ensure uniform alkaloid content.

    They won't do this, though, since big Pharma spends massive amounts of money to ensure that illegal drugs remain that way. As long as people remain dependent on prescription medications (I referring not only to opioid/ate painkillers but also psychiatric drugs), these companies can continue to rake in huge profits.

    Just my two cents...
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