PARIS (AFP) – Researchers have discovered the genes that allow the opium poppy to make codeine and morphine, according to a new study.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
Lindsey Graham keeps begging Fox Views viewers for donations: ‘They’re killing me money-wise’
Embattled Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham went on Fox News multiple times on Thursday to beg their right-wing audience for campaign donations.
Graham started his day on the Fox News show "Fox and Friends" -- where he begged for money.
“My opponent will raise almost $100 million in the state of South Carolina,” said Graham.
“The most money ever spent in the state on a Senate race was by me in 2014 when I spent $13 million. He raised $6 million from the time Justice Ginsburg passed away, within 72 hours and God bless Justice Ginsburg. We’re celebrating her life. I appreciate waiting ’til Saturday to announce her replacement. But I am being killed financially," he admitted. "This money is because they hate my guts.”
‘Breonna’s Law’ legislator arrested by Louisville police for first-degree rioting: report
A spokesman for a police union in Louisville announced on Thursday that the only black woman in the Kentucky legislator had been arrested while protesting the lack of charges for the killing of Breonna Taylor by the Louisville Metro Police Department.
"Kentucky State Rep. Attica Scott, author of legislation known as "Breonna’s Law," was arrested with others Thursday evening during protests demanding justice for Breonna Taylor," WDRB-TV reports. "Scott, a Louisville Democrat, was among a group of individuals arrested near the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library and First Unitarian Church at the intersection of South Fourth and York streets, according to Tracy Dotson, a spokesman for Louisville Corrections Lodge #77 Fraternal Order of Police union. Scott was charged with first-degree rioting and failure to disperse, Dotson said."
WATCH: Late-night hosts go off on Trump for ‘chilling’ plan ‘to steal the election’
Late-night television hosts harshly criticized President Donald Trump for refusing to say there would be a peaceful transition of power if he loses the November election.
"In one of the more chilling moments of his presidency -- and they've been a few -- Donald Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power as Republicans formulated the plan to steal the election through the courts," Seth Meyers explained.
"We're as close as we've ever been to losing our democracy and watching our government transform into an autocratic regime," he continued. "It's happen right in front our eyes right now, you don't need to wait for Trump to roll down Pennsylvania Avenue on a tank in green fatigues with a long chin-beard -- especially since if he did try to grow one he'd probably just look like a very sick chihuahua."