Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Metabolic enzymes discovered with 'widespread roles' in opium poppy

Date:
October 4, 2013
Source:
University of Calgary
Summary:
Scientists have discovered metabolic enzymes in the opium poppy that play "widespread roles" in enabling the plant to make painkilling morphine and codeine, and other important compounds.

University of Calgary scientists have discovered metabolic enzymes in the opium poppy that play "widespread roles" in enabling the plant to make painkilling morphine and codeine, and other important compounds.
Credit: Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

University of Calgary scientists have discovered metabolic enzymes in the opium poppy that play "widespread roles" in enabling the plant to make painkilling morphine and codeine, and other important compounds.

The discovery, by university researcher Peter Facchini and PhD student Scott Farrow, includes the first biochemical reaction of its kind ever reported in plants, which may also occur in garden-variety poppies and other plants.

Their research, published this week as a cover story in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, sheds light on how the opium poppy -- the world's only source of the valuable painkillers -- evolved the ability to make morphine and other compounds.

"The functions of what we thought were really specific genes and enzymes involved in morphine biosynthesis are actually much broader," says Facchini, professor of biological sciences in the Faculty of Science and an internationally recognized expert on the opium poppy.

In 2010, Facchini's laboratory reported the discovery of two unique genes, and the enzymes they encode, that enable the opium poppy to synthesize morphine and codeine.

Enzymes are protein molecules -- highly selective catalysts that accelerate both the rate and specificity of metabolic reactions.

The new finding shows that these enzymes in opium poppy, along with a third enzyme discovered by the U of C lab, "have these unexpected and widespread roles," Facchini says.

"There are more branches of related alkaloid metabolism that lead to a lot of different compounds that have different pharmacological and important biological properties in opium poppy."

The new insights could enable pharmaceutical companies to manipulate the biochemical pathway and create varieties of the opium poppy that produce higher levels of specific drugs, such as codeine or morphine, Facchini says.

Codeine is by far the most widely used opiate in the world and one of the most commonly used painkillers.

Codeine can be extracted directly from the opium poppy, although most of the painkiller is chemically synthesized from the much more abundant morphine found in the plant.

Canadians spend more than $100 million a year on codeine-containing pharmaceutical products and are among the world's top consumers of the drug per capita.

Facchini and Farrow suspect that the biochemical reactions they discovered also occur in garden-variety poppy species related to the opium poppy, as well as in other plants.

"The difference between related plants, in terms of their ability to make or not make morphine, might only be the activity of a single enzyme," Facchini notes.

If so, it may eventually be possible to manipulate metabolic pathways so that other plants -- or even yeast and bacteria -- can produce morphine, codeine or thebaine, an "intermediate" compound obtained only from opium poppy and used to make the painkiller drug oxycodone.

However, companies seeking to 'tweak' opium poppy biochemistry should be cautious, Facchini says, because the related metabolic pathways produce compounds with anti-microbial activity designed to protect the plant.

"If you're going to continue to rely on this plant as a 'drug-production system' and apply technological solutions to improving varieties, you better understand the biochemistry thoroughly," Facchini says.

Farrow spent the last three years unravelling the biochemical reactions, performing in vitro ('test tube') analysis on many compounds using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry equipment.

He also used a technique called virus-induced gene silencing to essentially knock out the genes' morphine- and codeine-making enzymes, which confirmed their widespread roles in the opium poppy's physiological functions.

Prior to this discovery, the only similar biochemical reaction reported in the scientific literature is a human enzyme that breaks down the illegal drug ecstasy, although the enzyme itself hasn't yet been identified.

Farrow is now investigating 20 other plant species genetically sequenced by Facchini's lab, to determine if the biochemical reaction also occurs in these plants.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Calgary. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. C. Farrow, P. J. Facchini. Dioxygenases catalyze O-demethylation and O,O-demethylenation with widespread roles in benzylisoquinoline alkaloid metabolism in opium poppy. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2013; DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M113.488585

Cite This Page:

University of Calgary. "Metabolic enzymes discovered with 'widespread roles' in opium poppy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131004105230.htm>.
University of Calgary. (2013, October 4). Metabolic enzymes discovered with 'widespread roles' in opium poppy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131004105230.htm
University of Calgary. "Metabolic enzymes discovered with 'widespread roles' in opium poppy." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131004105230.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How to Make Single Serving Smoothies: Howdini Hacks

How to Make Single Serving Smoothies: Howdini Hacks

Howdini (July 24, 2014) Smoothies are a great way to get in lots of healthy ingredients, plus they taste great! Howdini has a trick for making the perfect single-size smoothie that will save you time on cleanup too! All you need is a blender and a mason jar. Video provided by Howdini
Powered by NewsLook.com
Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Reuters - US Online Video (July 24, 2014) An 8-year-old boy is bitten in the leg by a shark while vacationing at a Florida beach. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Newsy (July 24, 2014) A new study claims a set of prehistoric T-Rex footprints supports the theory that the giant predators hunted in packs instead of alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins