Opium poppy and it’s genetic secrets
Codeine, usually made from the morphine found in the opium poppy, is one of the world’s most commonly prescribed painkillers. Despite it’s global use, poppies are only grown as a commercial crop in a few countries, making countries highly dependent on these opiate imports. Now there looks like there is a way to synthesize codeine in a laboratory.
Researchers at the University of Calgary (The University of Calgary is a public research university located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.) have discovered the individual special genetic coding that allow the opium poppy to produce painkillers such as codeine and morphine. This, say the research team, will open the door to alternate methods of producing painkillers, possibly even by manufacturing them in a laboratory using micro-organisms as a base.
“The enzymes encoded by these two genes have eluded plant biochemists for a half-century,” quotes University researcher Peter Facchini. “In finding not only the enzymes but also the genes, we’ve made a major step forward. It’s equivalent in finding a gene involved in cancer or other genetic disorders.”
University Researcher Jillian Hagel found these key genes as part of her Ph.D. research. She succeeded by using leading-edge genomics techniques that helped her sort through up to 23,000 different genes and ultimately find a gene called codeine O-dementhylase (CODM) that produces the plant enzyme converting codeine into morphine.
The research, appearing in Nature Chemical Biology, will ultimatly allow scientists to synthesize codeine and other opiate drugs more efficiently and economically in controlled bioprocessing facilities. “Our discovery now makes it possible to use microorganisms to produce opiate drugs and other important pharmaceuticals,” said Facchini. Hagel added that one of the next steps for the research team is using the codeine gene to produce pharmaceuticals in yeast or bacteria.