BIG PIC: Is Antarctica Home of the Next Miracle Drug?
"Genomic information of that nature and scale is a treasure trove for synthetic biologists," said PhytoMetaSyn co-leader Vincent Martin, of Concordia University. "It provides access to many genes or parts that can be used to produce molecules on an industrial scale."
For example, the discovery of the genes that allow the opium poppy to make both codeine and morphine helped pharmaceutical manufacturers make effective painkillers. Unraveling the poppy's puzzle also suggested ways to create plants that will only produce the more-valuable codeine and not morphine, the active and addictive ingredient in opium used to make heroin.
Some of the other plants being studied include:
German chamomile – used to make calming and curative teas;
Hops – the bittering ingredient in beer;
Cannabis sativa – some varieties make rope, others are smoked as dope, also gives glaucoma patients hope;
Wormwood – the active ingredient in absinthe;
Quinine – used to treat malaria;
West Indian Mahogany – a beautiful hardwood, endangered in the wild;
Rosemary – a culinary herb; and traditional arthritis medicine;
Grapefruit – a traditional medicine for prostate health and erectile dysfunction.
With this wealth of genetic knowledge freely available, does it open the way for illegal drug manufacturers to run clandestine genetic engineering labs cranking out morphine from transgenic yeast?