Pathway pieced together to make opiates in yeast

petri dish of yeast

The humble yeast has been engineered to make a precursor to opiates. 

Galanie et al/Science 2015

Out of a poppy and into a yeast. Scientists have engineered yeast to make sugar into thebaine, a precursor to opiates such as morphine. The work brings together the beginning and recently identified central step of the pathway into a single strain of yeast. The researchers published their findings August 13 in Science.

Making yeast that can eventually produce an opiate required enzymes from mammals, plants, bacteria and a few from the yeast itself. The result is a proof-of-concept that yeast can take in sugar and ferment it into opiates and other drugs, with the goal of using them for research into new pharmaceuticals. The researchers estimate that the full pathway from sugar to morphine will require a 7-million-fold improvement in yield before it can put a poppy out of business. 

Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

More Stories from Science News on Chemistry

From the Nature Index

Paid Content