Scientists have developed type of yeast that can turn glucose into morphine. It will soon be possible to home-brew opiates just as one home-brews beer.
Synthetic biology enters big time – sugar to morphine using yeast.
The Nature article has links to the relevant papers. While this could be used to make painkillers, the effect on illicit access can be huge. Morphine production can be done using yeast, pretty much using the same processes used to make beer.
No more growing opium poppies in Afghanistan and then having to process them into the necessary opiates.
Production could be done in ways that are not detectible to authorities. People will be able to grow the yeast as easily as they can now make home-brews
So what happens to the illegal drug trade when production is spread to anywhere, not centralized? These guys will be just as worried about the yeast strains getting out as the government. They would lose total control over production.
How would cartels maintain control of distribution when anyone, anywhere could make this?
So, will the lure of making opiates anywhere overwhelm their worry about the ability of anyone else making opiates anywhere?
How do the authorities stop this? Looks like they may do some things like making yeast less accessible to people and/or make it illegal to have the wrong strain of yeast.
And arresting researchers.
This will just be the start for what synthetic biology can do.
But it looks like the authorities have only one approach, one that really has not done much more than put a lot of people in jail and a lot of money in some people’s pockets.
Maybe they should do what is done with beer now – you can always make your own but people prefer the benefits of quality control from known products. We are already seeing something like this with marijuana.
Maybe something ike this would work because I don’t see authoritarian approaches working.
Image: Boston Public Library