No opium needed? Bioengineers altering yeast cells to fabricate synthetic opioid like medicine

08/25/2014 - 16:15

Tom Abate

For centuries poppy plants have been grown to provide opium, the compound from which morphine and other important medicines such as oxycodone are derived.

Now bioengineers at Stanford have hacked the DNA of yeast and reprogrammed these simple cells to make opioid-based medicines through a sophisticated extension of the basic brewing process that makes beer.

Led by bioengineering Associate Professor Christina Smolke, the Stanford team has already spent a decade genetically engineering yeast cells to reproduce the biochemistry of poppies, with the ultimate goal of producing opium-based medicines, from start to finish, in fermentation vats.