The FBI has taken an interest into some new findings by a Stanford laboratory.
Scientists at a Stanford laboratory have figured out how to use yeast to create illegal narcotics known as opioids — and the feds have taken notice.
The researchers were able to draw narcotics out of strains of yeast in what may be the beginning of home-brewed heroin — although the scientists hope it’ll actually be a boon for the medical community, and not illegal drug users and sellers, according to a New York Times report.
Today, opioids are only known to come from the opium poppy, and they are used to create painkillers and cough suppressants, but they also form the basis of some illicit drugs. The laboratory was trying to fight a yeast-based alternatives to poppy-based opioids.
The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken a special interest in this research, as some are concerned that this new alternative opioid would help drug traffickers more than the medical community, and that legal drugs from poppy fields are perfectly inexpensive. The FBI says they aren’t getting deeply involved yet because the research is in its initial stages, but they are paying close attention.
The researchers were able to create this narcotic by injecting the yeast with 23 genes, prompting it to create an enzyme that produces thebaine and hydrocodone. The latter is the basis of drugs like Vicodin, and the former can be turned into oxycodone, the primary ingredient of OxyContin.
The scientists got the idea in part froma project at Berkeley about 10 years ago when enes were added to yeast to create the precursor to artemisinin, which is used for fighting malaria. Today, most malaria drugs are based on this bioengineered yeast rather than from the wormwood shrubs it used to come from almost exclusively.