Home pagePress monitoringA Tobacco Plant Has Been Engineered to Produce Cocaine in...

A Tobacco Plant Has Been Engineered to Produce Cocaine in Its Leaves

Date: 28.11.2022 

Used by humans as a stimulant and anesthetic for thousands of years, the drug commonly known as cocaine has been carefully shaped by species of the coca plant (Erythroxylum) over tens of millions of years in an arms race against hungry insects.

Kredit: Darina / Wikimedia Commons.Knowing just how the plants pull off this feat of chemical engineering would be a big win for the pharmaceutical industry while helping biologists better understand the evolution of similar pesticides across the plant kingdom.

Yet the sheer complexity of the chemical's production has been one of nature's best-kept secrets, one that scientists have spent the better part of a century untangling.

Now, researchers from China's Kunming Institute of Botany have finally uncovered the last major steps of the biosynthetic process. Not only did they more or less map the biochemical pathway of cocaine's production, but the researchers also reconstructed the entire chain inside a humble tobacco plant for good measure.

But a similar method involving bacteria or yeast could one day revolutionize the way we design and industrialize pharmaceuticals.

There remain a few small holes in the map, though researchers are confident enzymes well known to biochemistry could easily do the job. To demonstrate this, they plugged six cocaine-production genes into the tobacco plant, Nicotiana benthamiana, leaving the genetic hybrid to fill in the gaps using its own versions of the suspected enzymes.

Image source: Darina / Wikimedia Commons.





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