Scientists at the University of Calgary announced they have unlocked one of the genetic secrets of the opium poppy. Biological sciences professor Peter Facchini said they have traced the unique genes that allow the opium poppy to make codeine and morphine.
“The enzymes encoded by these two genes have eluded plant biochemists for a half-century,” Prof. Facchini said in an interview.
“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.”
The 46-year-old Toronto-born scientist has been researching the opium poppy for close to two decades and, with the help of researcher Jillian Hagel, has been trying to unlock the gene secrets for two years.
Hagel, who herself scanned nearly 23,000 different genes on a tiny slide, finally decoded the gene called codeine /O/-dementhylase which produces the plant enzyme that converts codeine into morphine.
Prof. Facchini has filed a patent on the technology. He says the applications could have an enormous impact on the business of morphine based painkillers, as it leads to lower production costs.