Opioids Produced by a Single Strain of Genetically Modified Yeast
Stanford Synthetic biologist, Christina Smolke and her team have successfully synthesized hydrocodone and thebaine from genetically modified baker's yeast. One strain of the yeast produced hydrocodone and another strain produced thebaine (an opioid precursor).
Research groups have used several different strains of yeast to produce opioids but Smokle's is the first to synthesize opioids using only one strain. To complete the full conversion from yeast to opioid, more than 20 enzymes are needed. To go to glucose to painkillers, the team splices genes from different organisms such as plants, bacteria and rats into the yeast. This splicing resulted in a more effective, less addictive and lower-cost painkiller for consumers. Due to the conversion similar to a D-I-Y project, it is feared that hobbyists would someday synthesize the opioids themselves. However, Smolke and her team test this also, the "at-home opioid" experiment failed. "When you home-brew, you grow yeast populations very differently than in a lab or for commercial production"
This is a great discovery. As stated in the article, it is a cost efficient process and yields a lower-cost and less addictive painkiller. Although, there will always be a "war on drugs", if these opioids are used exclusively, it would "eliminate" the older, addictive opioids. It is also very comforting to know that it is nearly impossible to synthesize efficient drugs at home. If prescribed by doctors and used in hospitals, it could be a money and lifesaver.