Bio-engineered yeast can generate painkillers that could cure cancer and other chronic illness.
Researchers at Stanford University in California have created a method of making a particularly potent morphine-like painkiller by using bio-engineered yeast instead of opium poppies.
According to Reuters, this approach could potentially be uses to make other plant-based medicines that help in curbing cancer, infectious diseases, as well as other chronic illnesses.
Stanford University researchers altered the yeast’s genetic make-up to lure the cells to convert sugar into hydrocodone in just three to five days. Hydrocodone is part of a group of painkilling drugs called opioids.
Lead researcher Christina Smolke, a bioengineer at Stanford University, described how her team took almost two dozen of genes not only from plants but also from bacteria and rats to provide the yeast with the enzymes it needed to convert sugar into painkiller, The Guardian reported.
The study also shows that it is possible to switch from traditional farm-to-factory route to producing painkillers by using bio-engineered yeast.
Manufacturing painkillers normally take a long route, The Guardian noted. From the licensed farmers, the poppies will be shipped to pharmaceutical companies to extract the opioid drug molecules. It takes a year to make a batch of painkillers.
Aside from it can save time, the new process could also be cost-effective.
The Guardian noted that the researchers believe that with further development, the genetically modified yeast could produce painkillers at one tenth of the cost compared to the traditional poppy process.
However, Smolke noted one possible challenge that the new process may encounter. She said about 4,400 gallons of bioengineered yeast is needed to make a single dose of painkiller.
Smolke hopes that the new method could cut down the price of medicines to make it more accessible to the public.
However, she also stressed that their research needs further study before the end product could be available in the market.