Synthetic biology for drug manufacture

2015-05-20

in Science

For years now, I have been expecting people to use synthetic biology to make complex organic molecules like pharmaceuticals. If you splice the genes that allow some organism to make the molecule in question into another organism that is easy to cultivate, you can go from making the drug in a large and costly factory to cultivating it in a cheap batch of genetically-modified yeast.

This is now being done: Genetically Engineered Yeast Makes It Possible To Brew Morphine, A Way to Brew Morphine Raises Concerns Over Regulation, An enzyme-coupled biosensor enables (S)-reticuline production in yeast from glucose.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

. May 20, 2015 at 1:31 pm
anon June 7, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Scientists, at least those who aren’t arachnophobes, have tried to mass-produce spider silk for decades with little success. Spiders are territorial and cannibalistic—try to farm them, and they end up eating each other. But scientists have long believed that if spiders would only cooperate, fabric made from their silk would be well-suited for use in military and medical equipment, like wound sutures or artificial tendons, as well as in high-performance athletic clothing and other garments.

Instead, the researchers genetically engineered yeast to produce the same material through fermentation.

. September 16, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Newly Risen From Yeast: THC

In August, researchers announced they had genetically engineered yeast to produce the powerful painkiller hydrocodone. Now comes the perhaps inevitable sequel: Scientists have created yeasts that can make important constituents of marijuana, including the main psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Synthetic versions of THC are available in pill form under brand names like Marinol and Cesamet; they are generally used to treat nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite caused by H.I.V. infection or cancer chemotherapy. Genetically modified yeast could make THC in a cheaper and more streamlined way than traditional chemical synthesis.

. September 16, 2015 at 10:02 pm

“Both yeasts rely on so-called precursor molecules — not simple sugars, which would be ideal — and can produce only small amounts of THC and cannabidiol. But Oliver Kayser, a biochemist at the university, hopes that he can eventually engineer the yeast to replicate the full THC-production pathway and has teamed with THC Pharm of Frankfurt to try to scale the processes for industrial production.”

. September 16, 2015 at 11:05 pm

Harvard scientists to make LSD factory from microbes

Simple microbes such as those found in baker’s yeast can be modified to make LSD, suggests research by Harvard scientists

Around 20 tonnes of lysergic acid, a precursor of LSD, are made each year and turned into real medicines, such as nicergoline, a treatment for dementia. The drug is purified from big vats of fungus (which make the compound naturally) using technology developed decades ago.

With the tools of synthetic biology, Wintermute thought they might do better. The ergot fungus takes lysergic acid and turns it into a huge variety of exotic molecules. They could mix and match biological pathways from different species of ergot fungus and make potentially new drug molecules. They might even come up with a next generation dementia drug.

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