Scientists have just taken home-brewed beers to a worrying new level: home-brewed morphine.
No, they haven't discovered how to numb your physical pain using alcohol. That's still only possible by getting ridiculously drunk.
They have however, discovered a way to genetically modify yeast so that instead of converting sugar into alcohol, it will change sugar into morphine.
The research published in Nature Chemical Biology, was led by a team of scientists from University of California of Berkley, who claim that their discovery will do away with growing fields of opium poppies.
John Dueber, a bioengineer who worked on the research said:
"What you really want to do from a fermentation perspective is to be able to feed the yeast glucose, which is a cheap sugar source, and have the yeast do all the chemical steps required downstream to make your target therapeutic drug.”
So what exactly goes into a home-brewing morphine kit?
Dueber and his team isolated an enzyme from a sugar beet plant and inserted it into the yeast, which ultimately allowed the tiny microorganism to change sugar into reticuline - a compound which can then be converted to morphine.
Ok, so the home-brewing morphine process is not as easy as making your own beer. Unless of course you are particularly skilled at isolating enzymes or you happen to get your hands on Dueber's strain of yeast.
The process is still in its early stages and quite inefficient. Scientists reportedly require 300 litres of genetically engineered yeast to produce a single 30 milligram dose of morphine.
The research does have the potential to be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, using yeast to produce morphine and other medication will dramatically reduce the cost of drug production.
Home-brewed pain killers and even potentially heroin, however, will also be much harder to regulate if the research gets into the wrong hands.
Dueber explained: “The time is now to think about policies to address this area of research. The field is moving surprisingly fast, and we need to be out in front so that we can mitigate the potential for abuse.”
For now however, let's take a moment to simply celebrate the science behind the pint. Cheers.