Monday, 1 September 2014
A Step Toward Making Painkillers Without Poppies Bioengineering: Modified yeast produce morphine and semisynthetic opioids starting from thebaine
Using thebaine as the starting material, the same set of enzymes can catalyze reactions in different pathways leading to either morphine or neomorphine. With the addition of bacterial enzymes, they can produce semisynthetic opioids such as oxycodone.
The supply chain for some of the world’s most prescribed painkillers—natural opioids such as morphine and semisynthetic opioids such as oxycodone—depends on the cultivation of opium poppies, Papaver somniferum. Although poppy farming is a relatively cheap way to obtain the needed materials, it risks diversion to illicit drugs.