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Researchers at the University of Calgary have discovered the unique genes that allow the opium poppy to make codeine and morphine, thus opening doors to alternate methods of producing these effective painkillers either by manufacturing them in a lab or controlling the production of these compounds in the plant.

“The enzymes encoded by these two genes have eluded plant biochemists for a half-century,” says Peter Facchini, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, who has dedicated his career to studying the unique properties of the opium poppy. “In finding not only the enzymes but also the genes, we’ve made a major step forward. It’s equivalent in finding a gene involved in cancer or other genetic disorders.”

The researchers’ findings will be published in a paper entitled Dioxygenases catalyze the O-demethylation steps of morphine biosynthesis in opium poppy, appearing in the on-line edition of Nature Chemical Biology.

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