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Genetic engineering

Opioid drugs produced from engineered strain of yeast

Researchers have successfully introduced the enzymes needed to synthesise opioids into a strain of engineered yeast, which could be used as an alternative opioid source to the poppy.

A team at Stanford University has manipulated yeast to produce two opioid compounds – thebaine and hydrocodone to create full opiate biosynthesis. Until now, the poppy (close-up pictured) has been the only source of opioids for use in pain relief

Source: Shutterstock.com

The poppy (close-up picture) has traditionally been the only source of opioids but now scientists have genetically engineered yeast to produce the drugs, which are used in pain relief

In May 2015, researchers reported that they had engineered yeast to produce [S] reticuline, an important precursor in the opioid biosynthesis pathway[1]. Now, a team at Stanford University, California, has completed the pathway and manipulated yeast to produce two opioid compounds – thebaine and hydrocodone. “We combined enzyme discovery, enzyme engineering, and pathway and strain optimization to realize full opiate biosynthesis,” write Christina Smolke and colleagues in Science (online, 13 August 2015)[2].

Until now, the poppy (Papaver somniferum) has been the only source of opioids for use in pain relief. In this proof-of-principle study, yeast was engineered to express 21 or 23 additional enzymes and using sugar as the fuel source produced thebaine or hydrocodone, respectively. While the technique is not yet ready for commercial use, it could potentially become a new source of opioid drugs, the researchers believe.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2015.20069178

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  • A team at Stanford University has manipulated yeast to produce two opioid compounds – thebaine and hydrocodone to create full opiate biosynthesis. Until now, the poppy (close-up pictured) has been the only source of opioids for use in pain relief

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