It sounds almost too crazy to be true, but now bioengineers at Stanford University say they have hacked into the DNA of yeast and reprogrammed the cells to produce opiate-based medicines, all from the basic principles used in brewing beer.
What that means is that they’ve made painkillers from beer, and not the old-fashioned way.
Led by bioengineer Christina Smolke, the Stanford team has spent the last decade genetically engineering cells in yeast to replicate the biochemistry of the poppy plant, from which such painkillers as morphine are derived. Now, if test results hold true, it seems it may be possible to produce those same type painkillers from fermentation vats.
“We are now very close to replicating the entire opioid production process in a way that eliminates the need to grow poppies, allowing us to reliably manufacture essential medicines while mitigating the potential for diversion to illegal use,” said Smolke.
Smolke and Stephanie Galanie explain in a recent report how they added 5 genes from two separate organisms to the yeast cells. The combination of these replicated the natural process of producing opium in poppy plants. The new process will allow pharmacologists to refine the derivatives into pharmaceutical drugs like hydrocodone.
For the past ten years Smolke has been trying to replicate the natural production of poppies, through chemical refining, into yeast cells. What she did was to reprogram the yeast genome so that it will behave just like that of the poppy.
17 different steps are used when manufacturing opioid compounds into pills. While some of the processes occur naturally, others occur via synthetic chemical processes. Smolke was looking to make all 17 steps occur inside yeast cells in just one vat.
To get the results she desired, Smolke endowed the yeast with bacterium genes that feed on dead poppy stalks. Hacking the yeast genome in different ways produced different style opioids, like hydrocodone or even oxycodone.
“This will allow us to create a reliable supply of these essential medicines in a way that doesn’t depend on years leading up to good or bad crop yields,” Smolke says. “We’ll have more sustainable, cost-effective and secure production methods for these important drugs.”
…original content by PPE