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article imageYeast used to make morphine

By Tim Sandle     Aug 30, 2014 in Science
Biologists have successfully introduced bacterial and poppy plant genes into yeast to manufacture morphine. The research is important because opiates are medically essential. However, current production via opium poppy leads to supply inefficiencies.
A few years ago biologsts demonstrated that a bio-engineered yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) could produce benzylisoquinoline alkaloid (BIA) metabolites, including the alkaloids from which morphine is derived.S. cerevisiae is more commonly used as baker's yeast.
In a further development, Stanford University’s Christina Smolke and her colleagues have discovered that S. cerevisiae engineering to express additional enzymes can be coaxed to synthesize naturally occurring opiates and semisynthetic opioids from BIA precursor molecules. The results represent a significant step toward engineered yeast–based biomanufacturing of morphine.
With the study, yeast strains were engineered to express specific genes from bacteria. This allowed the yeast to convert convert ​thebaine to ​codeine, ​morphine, ​hydromorphone, ​hydrocodone and ​oxycodone; thereby creating medically important opiates. The researcher’s optimized approach was capable of yielding up to 131 miligram of opioid products per liter.
Discussing the research, biochemist Neil Bruce from the University of York, U.K., told The Scientist: "The authors have demonstrated that it is possible to develop a technology platform in yeast that allows the transformation of [the opiate alkaloid] thebaine to a variety of opiate drugs by mixing and matching microbial and plant enzymes. This is [an] elegant piece of synthetic biology."
The new development has been published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology. The research is titled "A microbial biomanufacturing platform for natural and semisynthetic opioids".
More about Yeast, Morphine, opiates, bioengineering
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