Brewers Yeast Will Soon Be Able to Produce Morphine


“Well it just goes to show/ Things are not what they seem/ Please, Sister Morphine/ Turn my nightmares into dreams.” — Rolling Stones

On May 18th, the journal Nature Chemical Biology published an article entitled, “An enzyme-coupled biosensor enables (S)-reticuline production in yeast from glucose.” It’s a title that would generate little interest outside of a handful of biochemists had the authors not spelled out its implications elsewhere.

(S)-reticuline is an intermediate in the biochemical pathway to morphine in opium poppies. And previously, two other yeast strains have been engineered to produce morphine from (R)-reticuline, and (R)-reticuline from (S)-reticuline. In others words, there are now three yeast strains that — working together — could produce morphine starting with glucose — no opium poppies required. They did this by splicing genes from poppies and other organisms into these strains. It is, of course, only a short matter of time until all the genes necessary are brought together into single strain. [Read more…]