Oh good, we've always wanted to make bathtub morphine.
Gather round, children. We'd like to tell you a story of olden days past.
In our youth, if you wanted to get warm and fuzzy on opiates, it used to be that you had to have a broken back, a counterfeit prescription or enough chemical knowledge stored in your noggin to magically turn poppies into drugs. If you were short on any of those assets, well, it was no druggies for you.
But today, all that's changing. Researchers have made the groundbreaking discovery that, if you combine together the right strain of yeast and some basic fermentation skills, you can make homemade DIY opiates the same way you'd home-brew beer. In fact, these same researchers have just invented a way to synthesize morphine from the glucose in a bioengineered strain of yeast.
To do this, UC Berkeley bioengineer John Dueber and Concordia University microbiologist Vincent Martin replicated the early steps of a morphine-production pathway in a specially engineered strain of yeast. By doing so, the science bros were able to make reticuline, which is a naturally occurring alkaloid found in poppies and a precursor to morphine itself.
“Getting to reticuline is critical because from there, the molecular steps that produce codeine and morphine from reticuline have already been described in yeast,” Martin explained in a press statement.
Do you guys realize what this means? If you're thinking bathtub morphine, kitchen-sink oxy and later on, toilet heroin, then congratulations: you're as depraved as we are. And all this could happen sooner than you think; analysts predict it'll only be a few months before a single engineered yeast strain can complete the entire opiate production process on its own.
Of course, the higher-ups of the science community have also realized this. In a commentary piece published in Nature, policy analysts Kenneth Oye, Tania Bubela and J. Chappell H. Lawson warn that “in principle, anyone with access to the yeast strain and basic skills in fermentation would be able to grow morphine producing yeast using a home-brew kit for beer-making.”
They added that, “if the modified yeast strain produced 10 grams of morphine, users would need to drink only 1–2 milliliters of the liquid to obtain a standard prescribed dose."
What's more, is this whole DIY opiate production process could be done dirt cheap.The study’s principal investigator, Dueber, explained that, “what you really want to do from a fermentation perspective is to be able to feed the yeast glucose, which is a cheap sugar source, and have the yeast do all the chemical steps required downstream to make your target therapeutic drug.” Considering you can buy half pound of pure glucose powder for $5.99 and a home-brewing kit for around $100, we'd say that's a rather inexpensive start to your homemade opiate empire (not including the price of the yeast, of course).
This brings up the whole challenge of a potential illicit drug trade stemming from this new technology. If the yeast strain were to fall into the wrong hands, some very nefarious shit could go down as is known to happen whenever newly synthesized chemicals escape the lab.
“It’s like any dual use technology. Like the nuclear bomb, or nuclear energy, it can be used for good and bad," said Martin, the other study author. "So as long as long as there are regulations, you’re always hoping that you can take advantage of the benefits and restrain the disadvantages." All the more reason to look at the potential dangers and challenges that DIY opiates might present now, before the technology is implemented.
To counter these scenarios, Oye, Bubela and Lawson recommend licensing future yeast strains to specific facilities and researchers. Companies that synthesize and sell DNA sequences should also be subject to regulations.
However, as we've seen with other lab-synthesized drugs that have made their way onto the black market, enforcing controls might not actually stop people from making their own homebrewed versions. “Once the knowledge of how to create an opiate-producing strain is out there, anyone trained in basic molecular biology could theoretically build it,” concluded Dueber in a press statement.
Gah, just another reminder how useless this Journalism degree is … Well, while we figure out how to become un-dumb and build a DIY morphine empire from scratch, we'll just have to be content with our other drug of choice for the moment …