Researchers Manufacture Psilocybin with Bacteria and Yeast
April 16th, 2020
Bacteria and yeast are popular cellular factories for everything from insulin to cough suppressants with far greater throughput and a sharply lower cost than the original production methods involving harvested organs and poppyseeds, respectively.
Researchers hope to use these same cellular factories to product psilocybin as the substance progresses through clinical trials and becomes a potential treatment option for millions of people suffering from mental illnesses.
“It’s unfeasible and way too expensive to extract psilocybin from magic mushrooms and the best chemical synthesis methods require expensive and difficult to source starting substrates,” said Nick Milne, former Postdoc at DTU Biosustain and CSO and Co-founder of Octarine Bio, to PHYS.org. “Thus, there is a need to bring down the cost of production and to provide a more consistent supply chain.”
Researchers have already started producing psilocybin at a small scale with E. Coli bacteria, but there are some challenges with scaling up production with bacteria. In particular, costly substrates must be added to the production process that makes it cost prohibitive.
New research has focused on using yeast to overcome these challenges. Scientists believe that psilocybin can be produced de novo by simply growing the yeast with sugar and other nutrients without the need for other substrates. This results in a significantly lower production cost at scale.
Despite these gains, there are still many challenges that must be addressed before the technique can be applied commercially.
“What we find in the study is that we get a lot of this non-phosphorylated compound psilocin. Essentially, we are losing half of our product because the phosphate group falls off. Dealing with this high amount of psilocin is something that absolutely needs to be solved before realistically moving to a production process,” added Nick Milne.
There’s also the issue of psilocybin versus magic mushrooms — a debate similar to THC versus cannabis as a plant. There are many other molecules in magic mushrooms that are difficult to purify and those could prove to be valuable in their own right in the same way that full-spectrum cannabis is valuable.
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