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Scientists crack opium poppy’s genetic code

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PARIS (AFP) – Researchers have discovered the genes that allow the opium poppy to make codeine and morphine, according to a new study.

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The findings could lead to engineered plants and micro-organisms that efficiently make codeine, one of the most widely prescribed painkillers in the world, the researchers said.

Unlike morphine, codeine cannot be easily converted to heroin.

“The enzymes encoded by these two genes have eluded plant biochemists for a half-century,” said Peter Facchini, a professor at the University of Calgary in Canada and co-author of the paper.

“In finding not only the enzymes but also the genes, we’ve make a major step forward,” he said in a press release.

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Opium poppy remains the world’s dominant source of codeine, morphine and another opiate called oxycodone, according to the study, published Sunday in Nature Chemical Biology.

In clinical medicine, morphine is often regarded as the drug-of-first-choice to relieve severe pain and suffering.

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Codeine can be extracted directly from the opium plant, but mostly it is synthesised from the much more abundant morphine found in the opium poppy.

Most morphine produced for pharmaceutical use around the world is converted into codeine.

Once ingested, codeine is converted by an enzyme in the liver to morphine, which is the active painkiller and a naturally occurring compound in humans.

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“With this discovery, we can potentially create plants that will stop production at codeine,” said Facchini.

“Our discovery now makes it possible to use microorganisms to produce opiate drugs and other important pharmaceuticals.”

Co-author Jillian Hagel, a post-doctoral scientist in Facchini’s laboratory, used cutting-edge sequencing techniques to sift through some 23,000 different genes to find the one — codeine O-dementhylase (CODM) — that produces the plant enzyme which converts codeine into morphine.

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“We have found the missing pieces that were needed to understand how the opium poppy makes morphine,” she said.

The opium poppy has been grown and exploited for thousands of years for both its medicinal and mind-altering properties.

Morphine was isolated in the early 19th century, while codeine was first identified in 1832 by French chemist Pierre Robiquet.

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



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‘I’m the one who calls the shots’: Trump rails against Fox News for giving him ‘his worst polls’

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President Donald Trump explained why Fox News has drawn his ire and that they need to realize he's the one in control of them.

In a conversation on the tarmac in Morristown, New Jersey on his way back to Washington, Trump said that Fox News has not been good to him lately.

"Fox is a lot different than it used to be, I can tell you that," Trump said.

In an earlier Twitter rant, the president went off on Juan Williams for being "nasty and wrong."

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Trump explains why he wants to buy Greenland to reporters: ‘It’s a large real estate deal — a lot can be done’

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President Donald Trump reaffirmed his desire to buy Greenland in discussion with reporters Sunday.

The president was returning to Washington, D.C. when he stopped at the airport in Morristown, New Jersey. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman asked the president about his desire to buy the country from Denmark.

"Greenland, I don't know. It got released somehow," Trump said of the news about his desire to buy the country. "It's something we talked about. Denmark essentially owns it. We're very good allies with Denmark. We protect Denmark like we protect large portions of the world. So the concept came up, and I said, strategically, it's interesting. And we'd be interested. We'll talk to them a little bit. It's not number one on the burner; I can tell you that."

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‘They love the meanest parts of him’: Conservative writer explains why evangelical Christians stick with Trump

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Ben Howe, a conservative writer and evangelical Christian who refuses to support Donald Trump, explained why fellow evangelicals continue to back the president despite his decidedly ungodly behavior.

Speaking with the Atlantic’s Emma Green about his new book The Immoral Majority, Howe — whose evangelical bona fides include attending pastor Jerry Falwell’s church as a kid — described evangelicals’ support for Trump, insisting “they love the meanest parts of him.”

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