Health

How to make millions of opioids, using yeast

By Matthew Knight, CNN

Updated 5:56 AM ET, Tue April 5, 2016
Share
Poppy budsPoppy buds
1 of 10
Poppies have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries by ancient civilizations all over the world. Today, they are the primary source for many painkillers. BAY ISMOYO/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Current opioid production methods involve harvesting sap from poppies (pictured) and processing them to produce opioid drugs, which takes one year. JAVED TANVEER/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Poppy farms face many challenges both from the perspective of trying to grow crops reliably each year and the movement of narcotic materials across borders. JAVED TANVEER/AFP/AFP/Getty Images/file
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, hydrocodone (pictured) is the most prescribed opioid in the U.S. with an estimated 137 million prescriptions in 2013. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/AFP/Getty Images/file
According to the International Narcotic Control Board, approximately three-quarters of the world's population live in countries with inadequate to pain relief, including India (pictured). AFP/Getty Images
Synthetic biologist Christina Smolke (pictured) has set out to provide opioid drugs for the masses by injecting yeast with the DNA of opium poppies. Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News /Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News
Smolke's technique is anticipated to make opioid drugs within three to five days. She's confident her method will lead to drug advances for other conditions, such as cancer. Rod Searcey/Stanford University
As well as Opium poppies, the yeast are engineered to have genes from six other organisms, including California poppies (pictured). David McNew/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Smolke (second from left) and her team have set up Antheia - a company created to commercialize their research and provide medicines to all who need them. Rod Searcey/Stanford University
Fear of fueling addictions is one reason Smolke's technology hasn't been met with universal approval. Some observers fear a rise in so-called "home-brew" heroin. John Moore/Getty Images North America/Getty Images