Next time you have guests you may want to try serving a more unusual snack – morphine. Just grab the sugar, a beer making kit, and get to work terrifying your loved ones.
A team of scientists from the University of California Berkeley and Concordia University in Canada have figured out an innovative way to make morphine and other similar painkiller without using opium poppies, a discovery that’s sure to open up the world of every aspiring criminal out there.
The method is simple and elegant, all you need to do is expose a genetically modified strain of yeast to sugar. The chemical reaction would cause the opioid to ferment, resulting in morphine, a narcotic that’s also known as a refined form of heroin.
The authors described all of the 15 key steps one needs to follow to make their own morphine, making it a simple matter of linking them together and scaling up the process. They said that while it’s not a trivial challenge, it’s absolutely doable.
Dr John Dueber, a bioengineer at the University of California, talked about an intermediary stage of the process that has been puzzling researchers for years. He said that “What you really want to do from a fermentation perspective is to be able to feed the yeast glucose, which is a cheap sugar source, and have the yeast do all the chemical steps required downstream to make your target therapeutic drug”.
It is important to note that the team of US and Canadian scientists stopped just short of actually creating the opioid.
In the study, published Monday in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, the scientists behind the discovery explained that the project was started with the good intention of creating “cheaper, less addictive, safer and more-effective” painkillers. If the genetically modified strain of yeast produces 10 grams of morphine, patients would only need to drink one or two milliliters of the liquid in order to obtain a standard prescription dose.
They expressed great concern over the simplicity and accessibility of the process that they stumbled upon, saying that anyone with basic chemistry skills and basic fermentation skills could use the genetically modified yeast to create home-made drugs.
They are urging lawmakers to regulate the area of research in order to avoid any potential abuse. So far their concerns have led to the decision of adding silent markers to the yeast’s DNA so that authorities will be able to track where exactly the morphine or heroin originated from.
On the opposite end of the argument, some experts say that the simplicity of the process of morphine making from sugar has been greatly exaggerated. It’s much more complicated than making beer in the basement because fermenting genetically modified yeast requires a unique knowhow.
One thing that law enforcers and scientist at both ends of the discussion agree on is that the fact that people are debating the implications of the discovery before it has had time to become a social issue serves as proof that ethics are emerging victorious over profit.
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