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Cocaine Synthesized In a Tobacco Plant

Thursday December 1, 2022. 03:02 AM , from Slashdot
Longtime Slashdot reader Amiga Trombone shares a report from Phys.Org: A team of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, working with a colleague from Syngenta Jealott's Hill International Research Centre in the U.K., has developed a way to synthesize cocaine using a tobacco plant. The group describes how they synthesized the notorious drug and possible uses for their process in their paper published in Journal of the American Chemical Society.

In studying the coca plant, the researchers discovered that the cocaine that winds up in its leaves is not produced by elements in the plant converting 4-(1-methyl-2-pyrrolidinyl)-3-oxobutanoic acid to hyoscyamine, as has been thought. They found that it is instead produced by the two enzymes, EnMT4 and EnCYP81AN15. To prove their discovery, the group genetically engineered a tobacco plant to produce the two enzymes in its leaves, which resulted in the production of small amounts of cocaine (with assistance from a substance also produced in the plant called ornithine, which is similar to the precursor in the coca plant). Not mentioned in the paper is the possibility of synthesizing the two enzymes produced by both the coca and engineered tobacco plant as a more direct way to synthesize cocaine.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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