Bioproduction of future painkillers such as morphine could become a reality. Researchers from the University of York and GlaxoSmithKline Australia made crucial genetic discoveries in the morphinan synthesis pathway, which will allow its production in microbial systems or in genetically selected plant breeds.
Opioid alkaloids have been used as painkillers since the dawn of time. The opium latex is found as a natural product in the opium poppy plant, Papaver somniferum, and contains the analgesic alkaloid morphine, which can be processed chemically to produce heroin and other opioids for medical purposes. Despite its long use, the process to obtain these desired molecules hasn’t been modernized much and it is still based in the cultivation and extraction from the plant, but this might be about to change.
Scientists from University of York and GlaxoSmithKline Australia have discovered what could be the key gene in the synthesis of the morphinan class of alkaloids. The gene, called STORR, evolved with two other enzymes, one oxidase and one reductase.