Scientists unlock poppy's painkilling genes

University of Calgary researchers have found how specific genes inside the poppy plant produce the painkilling power of drugs like codeine and morphine that are derived from the flower. And by understanding how the opium poppy produces these compounds, scientists may be able to manipulate the production of opiates by genetically engineering plants or manufacturing them in a lab. This could help them produce codeine and other opiate drugs more efficiently and economically in controlled bioprocessing facilities.

"The enzymes encoded by these two genes have eluded plant biochemists for a half-century," says Peter Facchini, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. "In finding not only the enzymes but also the genes, we've made a major step forward. It's equivalent [to] finding a gene involved in cancer or other genetic disorders."

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