Q&A on Homebrewed Drugs

Morphine comes from Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy — but one day soon it might be grown in a lab. In 2015, UC Berkeley bioengineering professor John Dueber and students engineered a yeast strain to convert glucose into reticuline, a key compound in the plant. Soon other researchers demonstrated subsequent steps toward producing thebaine, an opiate closely related to codeine and morphine. The development holds both great promise and great risk, Dueber says. The ability to easily synthesize powerful drugs from glucose through fermentation could be dangerous in the wrong hands. But this pathway also has the potential to lead to more-effective, less-addictive painkillers, as well as new miracle molecules for treating cancer, hypertension and more. Read more about this research and its implications with in a brief Q&A with Dueber at Berkeley Engineer.