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In the News: Opium Poppy Production

by Ariel Tilson

Tags: In the News, Opium, Poppy, Medicine Cabinet,


A new discovery is taking opiate production from the poppy fields to bioprocessing labs. This study published in Nature Chemical Biology, says that biologists have successfully isolated the genes that transform poppies into the painkillers codeine and morphine. One gene produces enzymes that lead to the production of codeine, while the other gene's enzymes convert this codeine into more potent morphine. Although codeine is a natural product of poppy plants, much less of it is produced by the plant than morphine, so traditional opiate production required synthesizing codeine from morphine. With this discovery, scientists may be able to limit painkiller production to codeine alone, which will give them a more efficient and controlled system. This leads the way for the possibility that poppy fields, such as the one below, could become nothing more than decoration.

Red poppy field
Photo by oindypoind/Courtesy Flickr

What thoughts do you have about this new poppy discovery? Do you have an opinion about the work of bioprocessing labs or synthesized plant production? Leave me a comment and let me know.

The Poppy's Secret: Scientists Find the Genes That Make Morphine (Discover)
Chemists Pin Down Poppy's Tricks for Making Morphine (ScienceNews)
Poppy Painkiller Properties Studied (UKPA)