Genetic engineering could make DIY heroin as easy as brewing beer
Around here, we tend to talk a lot about how GMOs may or may not ruin the world. Here is a fresh new piece of information to add to that never-ending conversation, starring GMO yeast!
A paper published today in Nature Chemical Biology details a novel process for replicating poppy’s opiate-producing chemical pathways by genetically modifying good ol’ Saccharomyces cerevisiae. That technology could lay the foundation for low-cost drug discovery, potentially producing anti-cancer therapeutics, antibiotics, and other narcotics. The only hitch: With the right opioid-producing yeast strains, it would also be easier to create morphine, heroin and other drugs at home—no Walter White-level smarts required. Just call it Breaking Bread. No, wait, Brewing Bad.
“Right now, you would need a background in synthetic biology and genetics to overcome the challenges to produce the right kind of yeast,” says John Dueber, a bioengineer at UC Berkeley and lead author on the study. “It is not an imminent threat. But if a strain made for licit purposes got out, then all that would be required is knowledge of brewing beer to ferment it into morphine.”
There are some alarming things in play here, but for once, the GMO debate is not at the top of the list. GMOs may be vaguely ominous entities with implications regarding corporate takeover of agriculture, but opiate addiction can destroy entire communities. That said, there are many steps that would have to take place between this Nature Chemical Biology study and DIY heroin labs popping up in Walmarts across America.
To sign off, please enjoy the only good thing that heroin ever did: